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Monitoring Nuclear Materials Aboard Submarines


• Physics 15, s79

Monitoring the fissile materials aboard nuclear-powered submarines is notoriously troublesome. Researchers might now have a technique to safeguard this weapons-grade substance.  

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Final yr, the UK and the US agreed to switch a few of their nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, a rustic that, at the moment, possessed none. On listening to the announcement, Bernadette Cogswell and Patrick Huber of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg say that they have been instantly involved as there’s presently no straightforward technique to safeguard a nuclear reactor aboard a submarine. Now, the duo has give you a way that might remedy that drawback [1]. They are saying that the strategy could possibly be used to substantiate the presence of a submarine’s nuclear core with out the necessity for onboard monitoring.

Most naval nuclear reactors make use of uranium that’s extremely enriched fissile uranium-235 (

235U

), a fabric additionally used to make nuclear weapons. For land-based reactors, inspectors hold observe of

235U

utilizing neutrino detectors positioned near an working core (see Characteristic: Neutrino Detectors for Nationwide Safety). However this system doesn’t work for the water-submerged cores in submarines at sea. It additionally fails for the weak alerts from powered-down cores, permitting operators to subvert checks of docked submarines.

Cogswell and Huber’s approach solves this challenge. Even when turned off, nuclear reactors emit antineutrinos as a result of decay of

235U

fission by-products reminiscent of radioactive isotopes of cerium and ruthenium. Cogswell and Huber predict that these antineutrinos, which have decrease energies than these emitted by an working reactor, needs to be detectable utilizing present applied sciences from a docked, submerged submarine.

Particulars that might decide the benefit with which the approach could possibly be carried out are labeled, however Cogswell says the expertise wanted to construct the detectors is all out there. “The implementation challenge is essentially extra a political problem than a technical one,” she says.

–Katherine Wright

Katherine Wright is the Deputy Editor of Physics Journal.

References

  1. B. Ok. Cogswell and P. Huber, “Cerium ruthenium low-energy antineutrino measurements for safeguarding army naval reactors,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 128, 241803 (2022).

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