• The science behind the deal

    The main U.S. objective of the deal with Iran is to decrease the riskiness of Iran’s civilian nuclear program to a point which (1) future nuclear weapon production would be unlikely, and (2) if Iran does cheat, it would be detected with reasonable certainty. Have the objectives been achieved in the deal signed 14 July? It is important to keep in mind that it is not reasonable for opponents of the deal to demand 100 percent certainty in verifying the agreement and it is also not necessary. A cost-benefit analysis is always done to determine what is feasible. Often this is not understood, and unreasonable demands may be placed on the verification regime.

  • Underground explosives tests help U.S. detection capabilities

    Three weeks ago, a National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) led-team successfully conducted the fourth in a series of experiments designed to improve the U.S. ability to detect underground nuclear explosions. The Source Physics Experiment (SPE-4 Prime) is a fundamental step forward in the U.S. effort to improve arms control verification, and will eventually be used to assure compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

  • More proof needed that PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes: NRC

    Despite repeated assertions by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. that the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered PG&E to provide more proof. Critics of the plant’s continuing operation say the order confirms concerns that faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of more ground motion than the reactors were built to withstand and that the plant is in violation of its operating license and should be closed immediately.

  • Nuclear forensics science helps thwart terrorist use of nuclear materials

    A nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists is the stuff of nightmares, especially for U.S. agencies charged with preventing a devastating attack. When security or law enforcement agents confiscate nuclear or radiological weapons or their ingredients being smuggled domestically or internationally, they must quickly trace them back to their source. This is where the science of nuclear forensics comes in. With funding from DHS, Oregon State University has launched a new graduate emphasis in nuclear forensics in OSU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

  • Drug cartels, terrorists may cooperate in smuggling materials for a nuclear device into U.S.

    Detonating a nuclear device or dirty bomb in the United States has long been goal of terrorists groups including al-Qaeda. Doing so, however, would require access to nuclear materials and a way to smuggle them into the country. Experts note the nexus between drug organizations, crime groups, and violent extremists and the trafficking of radiological and nuclear materials. A new report points out that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Colombia’s FARC are the three organizations with the motivation and capability to obtain a radiological or nuclear device.

  • Improving plutonium identification

    Researchers have developed a new kind of sensor that can be used to investigate the telltale isotopic composition of plutonium samples — a critical measurement for nuclear non-proliferation efforts and related forensics, as well as environmental monitoring, medical assays, and industrial safety. The novel device, based on “transition edge” sensor technology developed at NIST, is capable of ten times better resolution than all but the most expensive and time-consuming of current methods, and reduces the time needed for sample analysis from several days to one day.

  • Nuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”

  • Realistic radiation detection training without using radioactive materials

    Training of first responders on the hazards of actual radiological and nuclear threats has been challenged by the difficulties of adequately representing those threats. Training against such threats would involve using hazardous, highly radioactive materials, experiencing actual radiation doses in training, or require the distribution of radioactive material over a large geographical area. To avoid these issues in exercises to train responders, surrogate radioactive materials have been used, but these materials do not completely represent real threats due to their non-hazardous size and inability to be geographically distributed. Researchers have solved the problem by developing a new technology that provides realistic radiation detection training by directly injecting simulated radiation signals into the analog amplifier of the real detectors used by first responders and inspectors.

  • Sandia Lab’s mobile neutron imager shines in urban emergency response exercise

    A nuclear device has been hidden in a high-rise building in a major metropolitan area. Emergency responders have intelligence that narrows down the location to a single city block, but it is not safe to search door-to-door. Can they identify the exact location of the device quickly without the culprits realizing a search is on? The answer is a definite yes. Sandia Lab’ mobile imager of neutrons for emergency responders (MINER) system did just that at an emergency response exercise in downtown Chicago earlier this year. The exercise used a sealed laboratory radiation source that mimics the radioactive signature of more nefarious material.

  • Transparent nanoscintillators for radiation detection in homeland security, medical safety

    Researchers say recently identified radiation detection properties of a light-emitting nanostructure built in their lab could open doors for homeland security and medical advances. The researchers describe a new method to fabricate transparent nanoscintillators by heating nanoparticles composed of lanthanum, yttrium and oxygen until a transparent ceramic is formed. A scintillator refers to a material that glows in response to radiation.

  • New device improves radiation detection

    In a move that could have important implications for national security, researchers have created a very sensitive and tiny detector that is capable of detecting radiation from various sources at room temperature. The detector is eight to nine orders of magnitude —100 million to as high as 1 billion — times faster than the existing technology. The researchers sought to utilize the exceptional electronic carrier properties of graphene to create the photo detector device. Graphene is made of carbon atoms that are arranged in a honeycomb-like geometrical structure (the diameter of a human hair is 300,000 times thicker than a two-dimensional sheet of graphene).

  • No Fukushima radiation found in California’s coastal areas

    Following the 11 March 2011 Fukushima disaster, researches wanted to see whether radioactivity could be found in Bay Area precipitation. They collected weeks’ worth of rainwater around UC Berkeley Campus to find out. The results: low levels of a number of different radioactive nuclei produced by the fission of uranium-235 including, cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131. “The levels we saw were detectable, but low and not a health hazard to anyone,” said UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering professor Eric Norman.

  • Scientists improve accuracy, reliability of nuclear tests inspection

    The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) operates the International Monitoring System (IMS) — 279 sensors-equipped facilities around the world which detect four types of physical phenomena that can provide evidence of a nuclear explosion having taken place: seismic waves, radioactive nuclei, underwater sound waves, and infrasonic waves. The evidence from the IMS is not always enough to convince signatories of the CTBT that a nuclear test has taken place. Scientists are trying to improve the accuracy and reliability of the IMS system.

  • Iran wants to expand its uranium enrichment capacity

    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Iran would need significantly to increase its uranium enrichment capacity for future energy needs, dealing a setback to negotiations between the country and world powers.