• Nuclear detectionLooking from space for nuclear detonations

    Sandia has been in the business of nuclear detonation detection for more than fifty years, starting with the 1963 launch of the first of twelve U.S. Vela satellites to detect atmospheric nuclear testing and verify compliance with the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and subsequently the Threshold Test Ban Treaty of 1974. That marked the start of the U.S. Nuclear Detonation Detection System that supports treaty monitoring. The Global Burst Detection (GBD) system launched 5 February from Cape Canaveral aboard the 70th Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite. The GBD looks for nuclear detonations around the world, offering real-time information about potential activity to U.S. policymakers. The launch was the 12th and final of the Block IIF (GPSIIF) series of GPS satellites in medium Earth orbit.

  • Nuclear wasteMelting ice sheet could release frozen cold war-era radioactive waste

    Camp Century, a U.S. military base built within the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959, was decommissioned in 1967, and its infrastructure and waste were abandoned under the assumption they would be entombed forever by perpetual snowfall. But climate change has warmed the Arctic more than any other region on Earth, and as portion of the ice sheet covering Camp Century melt, the camp’s infrastructure will become exposed, and any remaining biological, chemical, and radioactive waste could re-enter the environment.

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  • Nuclear detectionScanners more rapidly and accurately identify radioactive materials at U.S. borders, events

    By Rob Matheson

    Among the responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, DHS, among other things, has increased screening of cargo coming into the country. At MIT, the terrorist attacks gave rise to a company dedicated to helping DHS — and, ultimately, other governments and organizations worldwide — better detect nuclear and other threats at borders and seaports. Today, Passport — co-founded in 2002 by MIT physics professor emeritus William Bertozzi — has two commercial scanners: the cargo scanner, a facility used at borders and seaports; and a wireless radiation-monitoring system used at, for example, public events.

  • Nuclear detectionImproving detection of concealed nuclear materials

    Researchers have demonstrated proof of concept for a novel low-energy nuclear reaction imaging technique designed to detect the presence of “special nuclear materials” — weapons-grade uranium and plutonium — in cargo containers arriving at U.S. ports. The method relies on a combination of neutrons and high-energy photons to detect shielded radioactive materials inside the containers.

  • Nuclear weaponsHelping inspectors locate and identify underground nuclear tests

    Through experiments and computer models of gas releases, scientists have simulated signatures of gases from underground nuclear explosions (UNEs) that may be carried by winds far from the point of detonation. The work will help international inspectors locate and identify a clandestine UNE site within a 1,000 square kilometer search area during an on-site inspection that could be carried out under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics support law enforcement, national security investigations

    According to the IAEA, in the period from 1993 to 2013, sixteen confirmed incidents involved the unauthorized possession of HEU or plutonium. Researchers have just published an overview of nuclear forensics, including examples of key nuclear forensic signatures that have allowed investigators to elucidate the history of unknown nuclear material and describing how nuclear forensics supports law enforcement and national security investigations.

  • Nuclear proliferationSoftware helps detect nuclear tests

    When North Korea conducted its recent nuclear weapon test, it was not terribly difficult to detect. It was a fairly large blast, it occurred in a place where a test was not surprising, and the North Korean government made no effort to hide it. But clandestine tests of smaller devices, perhaps by terrorist organizations or other nonstate actors, are a different story. It is those difficult-to-detect events that the Vertically Integrated Seismic Analysis (VISA) — a machine learning system — aims to find.

  • Forensic seismologyPairing seismic data, radionuclide fluid-flow models to detect underground nuclear tests

    Underground nuclear weapon testing produces radionuclide gases that may seep to the surface, which is affected by many factors. These include fractures in the rock caused by the explosion’s shock waves that create pathways for the gas to escape plus the effect of changes in atmospheric pressure that affect the gases’ movement. Scientists have developed a new, more thorough method for detecting underground nuclear explosions (UNEs) by coupling two fundamental elements — seismic models with gas-flow models — to create a more complete picture of how an explosion’s evidence (radionuclide gases) seep to the surface.

  • Nuclear wasteFinnish company to construct final disposal facility of spent nuclear fuel

    The Finnish government has granted a license to Finnish company Posiva for the construction of a final disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel. The spent fuel assemblies will be encapsulated and placed in the bedrock at a depth of about 400 meters for permanent disposal. The waste will be stored for around 100,000 years before its level of radioactivity begins to dissipate. “This is the world’s first authorization for the final repository of used nuclear waste,” Finland’s Economy Minister Olli Rehn said.

  • Radiation detectionNew, portable radiological detectors for frontline personnel

    Recently, DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) awarded a multimillion dollar contract which will equip U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) frontline personnel with a new capability to detect and interdict radiological or nuclear threats. The award is for small, wearable radiation detector devices – called Human Portable Tripwire (HPT) — which passively monitor the environment and alert the user when nuclear or other radioactive material is present.

  • Nuclear powerInspired by cats’ eyes, new camera can look inside nuclear reactors

    Currently 11 percent of electricity worldwide is generated by nuclear reactors. There are 435 reactors in operation with another 71 under construction. Engineers, drawing inspiration from the eyes of cats, have created a new camera that can see radiation coming from nuclear reactors — boosting safety, efficiency, and helping during nuclear disaster emergencies.

  • Radiation detectionTesting radiation detection systems in harsh conditions

    Researchers from five laboratories and a private company recently spent two days in blistering 100 degree heat testing radiation detection technologies amidst cargo containers. The fifteen researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using gamma-ray and neutron imaging detectors to identify radioactive materials using the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) cargo container stack testbed.

  • Nuclear verificationUpholding disarmament agreements with engineering

    By Julia Sklar

    Arms control agreements face a problem: how to ensure that countries with nuclear weapons abide by disarmament agreements. The linchpin of these agreements is being able to verify that the signers are following the rules — but the trick is for both sides, or a third party, to be able to police weapons in a way that doesn’t give out too much information about them, for example, how these weapons were built. An MIT project, called Zero Knowledge Warhead Verification, tackles this problem with a beam of light, a scrambler, and a detector.

  • Dirty bombUkrainian security services stop criminal gang from selling uranium

    The security services of Ukraine say they have seized a small quantity of ore-grade uranium from a criminal gang in the western part of the country. The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said the group had been trying to sell the uranium-238 isotope to an unknown client when they were arrested. Ukrainian media has recently reported of speculations about pro-Russian rebels’ ability to develop a “dirty” bomb which would use conventional explosives to scatter lethal radioactive fallout.

  • Iran dealThe Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “kicks the can down the road”: How to prepare for the day when the can finally lands

    The Institute for Science and International Security has published a series of briefs analyzing different aspects of the agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. One brief deals with what the United States and the other world powers need to do now to prepare for what may happen in Iran in ten to fifteen years when many of the limits the agreement imposes on Iran’s nuclear activities will expire. The agreement does not prohibit Iran from building a large uranium enrichment capability and even a reprocessing, or a plutonium separation, capability. The agreement essentially delays the day when Iran reestablishes a nuclear weapons capability and possibly builds nuclear weapons, that is, the agreement essentially “kicks the can down the road.” Prudent planning requires careful efforts now to prepare for the day when the can lands.