by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) June 25, 2014
Scientists in the United States claim to have devised a novel technique to test the viability of nuclear warheads, a tool that could be useful for disarmament inspectors.
The method uses a neutron scanner to confirm whether a nuclear warhead is what its owners say it is, without divulging any classified secrets about the device -- a major obstacle in weapons verification, they said on Wednesday.
The technique, currently in the early stages of testing, should be able to test whether rogue states or groups claiming to have a nuclear bomb are telling the truth.
It could also be a useful tool in the programme to dismantle US and Russian nuclear warheads under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), they said.
"The goal is to prove with as high confidence as required that an object is a true nuclear warhead while learning nothing about the materials and design of the warhead itself," said Robert Goldston, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, New Jersey.
Weapons inspectors already have an array of diagnostic instruments on hand, but using them can be a problem in itself.
Gamma-ray spectroscopy, for instance, can reveal whether there is sufficient plutonium 239 to make a bomb, but measuring this would reveal warhead-design information that could help weapons proliferation.
Other procedures are likely to require opening up the warhead to verify it -- a process that is long, complex and laden with suspicions that this is an attempt to spy on or tamper with secret material.
To get around this, Goldston's team conceived of an approach called "zero knowledge," inspired in part by software designed to check computer passwords safely.
It entails aiming a high energy beam of neutrons through the warhead, rather like an X-ray.
The tally of neutrons detected on the other side of the warhead thus provides a signature of the contents.
This signature has to match a signature provided by the host to be confirmed as a bomb.
Because the host preloads his own signature into the detectors, the inspector requires no access to secret data or material, hence "zero knowledge" of what lies in the box.
The idea, reported in the science journal Nature, is still in its infancy and problems have to be ironed out, the scientists admit.
But it has secured funding of $3.5 million (2.57 million euros) from the US National Nuclear Security Administration to take it further at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
The researchers are using a harmless dummy made of polystyrene and tungsten, about the same size and weight as a warhead, to test the neutron scan.
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com
Learn about missile defense at SpaceWar.com
All about missiles at SpaceWar.com
Learn about the Superpowers of the 21st Century at SpaceWar.com
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|