• Nuclear materialsFBI helps foil several plots to sell nuclear material in Moldova’s black market

    Over the past five years, four attempts by Russian gangs in Moldova to sell nuclear material have been thwarted by the FBI and Moldovan authorities. The most recent case was in February when a smuggler, who specifically sought a buyer from Islamic State, offered undercover agents a large amount of radioactive caesium. The would-be smuggler wanted €2.5 million for enough radioactive material to contaminate several city streets.

  • Radiation risksAnimals have returned to Chernobyl

    In 1986, after a fire and explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant released radioactive particles into the air, thousands of people left the area, never to return. Now, researchers have found that the Chernobyl site looks less like a disaster zone and more like a nature preserve, teeming with elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, and wolves. The findings are a reminder of the resilience of wildlife.

  • 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.

  • Nuclear eventsMighty Saber demonstrates post-nuclear detonation technical forensics capabilities

    In late 2013, a team of more than fifty scientists from across the U.S. laboratory and industrial complex began preparing for Mighty Saber with the goal of demonstrating and evaluating post-detonation technical nuclear forensics capabilities following a simulated detonation of a nuclear device in an urban environment. Mighty Saber, which ran from 27 July to 21 August 2015, successfully met each of its objectives, including demonstrating U.S. government post- detonation nuclear forensics processes; the value of prompt diagnostics data provided by the Discreet Oculus ground-based sensor network; and how prompt diagnostics complements radiochemistry in providing a robust post-detonation nuclear forensics capability.

  • Radiation risksRadioactive contaminants found in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins

    A new study has revealed the presence of radioactive contaminants in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins. The study found that levels of radioactivity in the ash were up to five times higher than in normal soil, and up to ten times higher than in the parent coal itself because of the way combustion concentrates radioactivity. The finding raises concerns about the environmental and human health risks posed by coal ash, which is currently unregulated and is stored in coal-fired power plants’ holding ponds and landfills nationwide.

  • 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.

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  • Radiation risksIsraeli port evacuated after container emitting suspicious radioactive radiation detected

    Israeli authorities on Monday evacuated the Ashdod port in southern Israel after an Israeli shipping container which arrived on a Chinese ship was detected to emit irregular radioactive radiation. By mid-afternoon, the port went back to normal operation. Israeli ports have installed advanced radioactive radiation systems in an effort to detect “dirty bombs” which terrorists may try to smuggle into Israel.

  • Radiation risksNew reference material to help monitor oceans’ radioactive contamination

    NIST is making available a new reference material which will help laboratories accurately measure radioactive contamination in seawater. The new reference material, a mixture of freeze-dried, powdered shellfish, provides a benchmark for scientists analyzing the local ocean environment’s level of contamination — for example, after an accident such as the 2011 nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

  • 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.

  • Iran dealInspection regime in Iran informed by lessons from Iraq experience

    Many critics of the agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program are especially concerned with the inspection regime negotiated in Geneva. The initial goal of the world powers was, in President Barack Obama’s words, an “Anywhere, anytime” inspections, but the deal finally reached saw the two sides agree to inspection procedures which fall short of that goal.

  • Radiation risksSRI International working to develop screening device for radiation exposure

    radiation that may lead to severe health consequences post-exposure. To rapidly triage large numbers of people to determine who needs immediate treatment, a new, simple screening test is needed. Currently, if a person has absorbed a significant dose of ionizing radiation, there is nothing that can be done beyond waiting to see what symptoms develop, which roughly correlate with exposure level. SRI International has been awarded a $12.2 million contract to continue development of a diagnostic test for absorbed doses of radiation following a radiological incident.

  • Dirty bombsIsrael conducted tests to assess the impact of dirty bombs

    Between 2010 and 2014, Israeli scientists at the Dimona nuclear reactor conducted a series of experiments, under the code name “Green Field,” to examine the consequences of a dirty-bomb explosion in Israel. The purpose of the experiments was defensive – to measure the likely effect of a dirty bomb and evaluate countermeasures. The experiments did not evaluate to offensive potential of a dirty bomb.

  • Nuclear wasteInventing a stronger radiological waste bag for extra protection

    Researchers at the Savannah River National Laboratory found out that a radiological waste bag was not lasting as long as he would like, so they set about inventing a new one, creating a “double-ply” waste containment bag capable of better containing nuclear waste. Much like a household garbage bag is used to protect waste from leaking into a garbage can, special radiological waste bags are used to keep radiation from leaking into a storage container.

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear 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.