• North American Seismic Networks Can Contribute to Nuclear Security

    The International Monitoring System is the top global seismic network for monitoring nuclear weapon tests around the world. To expand the system’s detection capabilities, however, international monitors should seek out the data, methods and expertise of smaller regional seismic networks.

  • How to Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb: Team Successfully Tests New Method for Verification of Weapons Reduction

    By Peter Dizikes

    How do weapons inspectors verify that a nuclear bomb has been dismantled? An unsettling answer is: They don’t, for the most part. When countries sign arms reduction pacts, they do not typically grant inspectors complete access to their nuclear technologies, for fear of giving away military secrets. Now MIT researchers have successfully tested a new high-tech method that could help inspectors verify the destruction of nuclear weapons. The method uses neutron beams to establish certain facts about the warheads in question — and, crucially, uses an isotopic filter that physically encrypts the information in the measured data.

  • Containing a Nuclear Accident with Ground-up Minerals

    Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing a promising new way to prevent the spread of radioactive contamination and contain the hot molten mass that develops within a nuclear reactor during a catastrophic accident. A team of scientists discovered and patented a process for injecting sand-like minerals into the core of a nuclear reactor during an accident to contain and slow down the progression of a meltdown.

  • A Meltdown in Nuclear Security

    A commando raid on a nuclear power plant seems the stuff of Hollywood. So why are nuclear security experts so worried? It ranks among the worst-case scenarios for a nuclear power plant: an all-out assault or stealth infiltration by well-trained, heavily armed attackers bent on triggering a nuclear blast, sparking a nuclear meltdown or stealing radioactive material. Under pressure from a cash-strapped nuclear energy industry increasingly eager to slash costs, the commission in a little-noticed vote in October 2018 halved the number of force-on-force exercises conducted at each plant every cycle. Four months later, it announced it would overhaul how the exercises are evaluated to ensure that no plant would ever receive more than the mildest rebuke from regulators – even when the commandos set off a simulated nuclear disaster that, if real, would render vast swaths of the U.S. uninhabitable. Nuclear security experts, consultants, law enforcement veterans and former NRC commissioners are nothing short of alarmed. “You can’t afford to be wrong once,” says one expert.

  • Sniffing Out Signs of Trouble

    A NIST researcher is conducting the first field test of a high-tech sniffing device called a PLOT-cryo — short for “porous layer open tubular cryogenic adsorption.” This NIST-invented device can be used to detect very low concentrations of chemicals in the air. The technology offers a new way to screen shipping containers at ports of entry.

  • Keeping TSA Detection Systems in Check

    As the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens nearly two million people each day, officers are faced with the challenge of finding even the smallest sign of a threat. Microscopic particles of explosives can cling to a nefarious actor despite their best intentions to conceal any evidence of hidden contraband on their person or in their bags. S&T chemist Dr. Jim Deline developed a novel method to more efficiently test TSA detection equipment.

  • Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Every Aspect of War

    In an effort to stop the North Vietnamese from sending troops and supplies into South Vietnam, the United States dropped tens of thousands of sensors into the dense jungles of Vietnam, but these sensors did not prove effective in tracking the movement of the North Vietnamese. The idea of collecting data from sensors, processing them with algorithms fueled by ever-more processing power and acting on the output more quickly than the enemy lies at the heart of military thinking across the world’s biggest powers. And today that is being supercharged by new developments in artificial intelligence (AI).

  • Faster, Smarter Security Screening Systems

    By now, attendees to sporting events, visitors to office buildings, and especially frequent fliers are all quite familiar with the technologies used at security checkpoints. You arrive at the security checkpoint, check your bags, show your ID and maybe your ticket or boarding pass, throw away the coffee or water you’ve been chugging, and then wait in a long line until it is your turn to be screened. The security lines can be inconvenient. S&T and partners are working to help security screening systems, whether at airports, government facilities, border checkpoints, or public spaces like arenas, to work faster and smarter.

  • The Once and Future Threat of Nuclear Weapon Testing

    The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the central security instrument of the United States and the world community. It is based on a strategic bargain between the five nuclear weapon states in the NPT (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) and the 185 non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty. The current worldwide moratorium on nuclear weapon testing and the intended ultimate conversion of that ban to legally binding treaty status by bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force are essential to the long-term viability of this strategic bargain.

  • Helping Nuclear Forensics Investigations by Going Small

    Until recently, the analysis and identification of nuclear fuel pellets in nuclear forensics investigations have been mainly focused on macroscopic characteristics, such as fuel pellet dimensions, uranium enrichment and other reactor-specific features. But scientists are going a step further by going down to the microscale to study the diverse characteristics of nuclear fuel pellets that could improve nuclear forensic analysis by determining more effectively where the material came from and how it was made.

  • Hackers Could Have Breached U.S. Bioterrorism Defenses for Years, Records Show. We’ll Never Know Whether They Did

    The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation’s bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

  • Data May Point to Second Blast at Russian Test Site

    Researchers at a Norwegian institute believe that there may have been two explosions, not one, at the Russian naval test site on the White Sea earlier this month, an incident that killed at least five people and raised new questions about Russia’s weapons research.

  • Russian Nuclear-Monitoring Stations’ Silence Fuel Fears over Extent of Deadly Blast

    Officials at the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) say that two nuclear monitoring stations in Russia have resumed operations after mysteriously halting the transmission of data. The CTBTO did not comment on August 20 on the other two stations which it previously said had gone silent in the aftermath of an explosion at a Russian naval test site that killed at least five people and caused a temporary spike in radiation levels.

  • Key Takeaways from the Fukushima Disaster

    In March and April of 2011 the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster resulted in what was the largest ever accidental release of radioactive material into the ocean. “Even though the levels of radiation in the area and in the marine organisms were elevated, they were actually not a threat to the ecosystem or to human consumers in most cases,” says an expert.

  • New Model Agrees with Old: Nuclear War Between U.S. and Russia Would Result in Nuclear Winter

    Most people who lived through the nuclear age have heard of nuclear winter, in which global cooling would result from a major nuclear war. Early fears of such an outcome have been bolstered by sophisticated computer models that showed what would happen if a large number of nuclear bombs were detonated in large urban areas. The planet would grow colder due to the huge amount of smoke generated by fires ignited by the atomic blasts—the smoke would cover the entire planet for years, blocking the sun.