New center will work to improve methods to detect, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons

Missing material, however, does not necessarily indicate foul play. It is possible for nuclear materials to build up at valves or bends in piping. This lost material can be found, measured and cleaned up with the help of a radiation imager. As the inventor of an effective room-temperature radiation imager, Zhong He, U-M professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, will head the effort for advanced safeguard tools.

Better to understand nuclear measurements, Alfred Hero, the R. Jamison and Betty Williams Professor of Engineering in electrical and computer engineering at U-M, will lead a team examining how data from multiple sensors can be used together to answer nonproliferation questions. The work could result in better methods for detecting nuclear detonations and other potentially threatening activities.

The IAEA also oversees disarmament efforts, such as turning nuclear warheads into reactor fuel.

In Russia, the Megatons to Megawatts program converted hundreds of metric tons from warheads into nuclear fuel used in the U.S.,” Pozzi said. “In these scenarios, again, we need tools to verify that what is being turned into fuel is indeed a nuclear warhead and not some other form of nuclear material.”

Because the designs of the nuclear warheads are still classified, the detection method has to walk a fine line. The data must be clear enough to confirm that the starting material is highly enriched uranium but fuzzy enough that it doesn’t give away the details of the weapon’s design. Richard Lanza of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology leads the disarmament verification group.

For tracking potential illicit nuclear tests, the team will focus on monitoring seismic activity. Earthquakes and nuclear explosions make the ground shake differently, and each can be traced back to its source. Paul Richards of Columbia University heads these studies.

A team led by Alexander Glaser of Princeton University will scrutinize proposals for future disarmament treaties, looking for gaps in their policies that could allow nuclear materials to fall into the wrong hands. A group led by Kimberlee Kearfott of U-M will address the generation gap in nuclear nonproliferation expertise.

Other U-M collaborators are chief scientist David Wehe and John Lee, professors in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences. U-M President Emeritus James Duderstadt and NERS Professor Emeritus Glenn Knoll will serve on the project’s advisory board. Other university partners are North Carolina State University, University of Hawaii, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, Oregon State University, Yale University and University of Illinois.

Laboratory partners include the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and several National Laboratories, including Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Idaho.

“Developing the R&D expertise of tomorrow can take years to cultivate,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “But we are linking national laboratories and academia by funding the next generation of researchers to perform complex research and gain an understanding of technical challenges in areas of major importance for the nuclear nonproliferation mission that can only be garnered first-hand at the national laboratories.”