• Nuclear cloak & daggerRussian secret agents implicated in nuclear poisoning of a critic of Putin

    Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident and a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, died in London on 23 November 2006 after suffering from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning. An inquest has established that on 1 November 2006 he ingested large quantities of the radioactive material, surreptitiously put in his tea by two agents of the Russian Federal Protective Services. A nuclear expert testifying at the inquest said that less than a millionth of a gram of polonium would be enough to kill a human being.

  • Radiation detectionSandia 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.

  • DetectionTransparent 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.

  • Radiation risksNew 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).

  • Radiation risksTennessee man pleads guilty to attempting to extort a nuclear contractor

    Adam Winters, 26, of Robbins, Tennessee, has pleaded guilty in a $2.5 million extortion case involving Babcock and Wilcox, a managing contractor at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. According to Oak Ridge Today, Winters sent the contractors an e-mail on 8 May, threatening to injure their reputation by publishing roughly 1,200 slides containing evidence from nuclear testing, including the amount of radiation used on animals.

  • Nuclear proliferationIran 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.

  • Radiation risksLos Alamos lab admits mishandling toxic waste, causing repository radiation leak

    In a letter addressed to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), lab officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have admitted to mishandling toxic waste shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the nation’s only permanent repository for plutonium-contaminated waste from government nuclear facilities.

  • Nuclear proliferationGame of marbles inspires nuclear-inspection protocol

    Modern cryptography combined with simple radiation detectors could allow nuclear-weapons checks to be carried out with almost complete security. That is the conclusion of scientists in the United States, who have used computer simulations to show how a beam of neutrons can establish the authenticity of a nuclear warhead without revealing any information about that weapon’s composition or design.

  • Nuclear proliferationEngineering nuclear nonproliferation

    University of Virginia engineering professor Houston Wood’s career demonstrates the important role that engineers can play in making the world a safer place. For more than two decades, Wood has helped governments determine whether nuclear programs in other parts of the world are being dedicated to peaceful or military purposes. In recent years, Wood has been working to determine the break-out time that Iran would require to develop a nuclear weapon if it stopped allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities.

  • Radiation risksWIPP radiation leak investigation focuses on Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) accident investigation team reviewing the leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico has turned its focus to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Communications between LANL and EnergySolutions, the contractor which packaged LANL’s waste for shipment to WIPP, have revealed that EnergySolutions switched from using an inorganic clay-based absorbent in the storage drums to an organic wheat-based mixture. Scientists are now trying to determine whether the switch to the organic substance is to blame for the chemical reaction that led to the explosion.

  • Radiation risksUsing cosmic rays to peer inside Fukushima Daiichi reactors

    Muon radiography (also called cosmic-ray radiography) uses secondary particles generated when cosmic rays collide with upper regions of Earth’s atmosphere to create images of the objects that the particles, called muons, penetrate. The process is analogous to an X-ray image, except muons are produced naturally and do not damage the materials they contact. Los Alamos National Laboratory the other day announced an impending partnership with Toshiba Corporation to use muon tomography safely to peer inside the cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and create high-resolution images of the damaged nuclear material inside without ever breaching the cores themselves. The initiative could reduce the time required to clean up the disabled complex by at least a decade and greatly reduce radiation exposure to personnel working at the plant.

  • Dirty bombsUrgent need: Dirty bomb detection technology which does not rely on helium

    It has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate our helium reserves, but these reserves are dwindling at an alarming rate, and will be exhausted by around 2025. The supplies we have originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks, and there is no chemical way to manufacture helium. The Department of Defense and other agencies use Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM) in order to counter the threat of nuclear-fueled explosives such as dirty bombs. Since the supply of He-3 is rapidly drying up, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop a replacement technology which will detect neutrons without relying on He-3.

  • Nuclear wastePressure grows for building a centralized nuclear waste repository

    In 2010, after $9 billion and twenty-five years of construction, the Obama administration pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain centralized nuclear waste repository. Toxic nuclear waste continues to accumulate on the grounds of U.S. nuclear power plants, with concerns growing about the security of keeping so may tons of such toxic materials in such a dispersed manner. Concerns have been heightened lately by the wave of closing, for economic reasons, of nuclear power plants, and worries about the safety of radioactive waste remaining behind on the grounds of shuttered plants. Senate Bill 1240 calls for the development of a Nuclear Waste Administrationto take responsibility for transporting and storing nuclear waste, and find the right geological location for a new centralized repository.

  • Nuclear wasteCracked lid of a nuclear waste container may be source of WIPP radiation leak

    The radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has been linked to a waste container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), raising questions about the safety of other containers stored at the lab’s northern New Mexico facility and at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site in Andrews, Texas.As a precautionary measure, LANL has been ordered to remove thousands of similar containers filled with toxic waste from outdoor storage. Critics of nuclear waste storage practices have blamed the recent radiation accidents on a diminishing culture of safety at the fifteen-year-old WIPP.

  • Radiation risksCesium chloride blood irradiators increase dirty bomb risk

    Federal officials want to halt the use of blood irradiators used by hospitals and blood centers to ensure that blood is properly treated before transfusions occur. The irradiation devices contain cesium chloride, a highly radioactive powder which terrorists could use to make a dirty bomb. A 2008 reportby the National Academy of Sciences recommended stopping the licensing of new cesium chloride radiation sources, thereby encouraging the adoption of alternative sources with a less dispersible form of radioactive cesium, including cobalt-60 or X-ray irradiators.