National Nuclear Security Administration

Meeting the Next Generation of Nuclear Nonproliferation Specialists

April 7, 2015

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At the end of March, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington delivered the 2015 Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project lecture at the University of Michigan (U of M).  Deputy Administrator Harrington’s talk focused on the need for the policy and technology communities to work hand-in-hand to confront today’s nuclear security threats and anticipate and mitigate emerging technologies that could represent future risk.  Comparing and contrasting the approaches of President Eisenhower, who served at the dawn of the atomic age, and President Obama, who serves in an era of evolving threats, Ms. Harrington drew on the programs that are securing thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium from around the world that were originally provided under the Atoms for Peace program, but that represent significant in a world that has to address terrorism and the ambitions of irresponsible.  She shared examples of how far these two communities have come in joining efforts to set a course towards a safer world— a task made more challenging in an age when information and technology move at astonishing speed.

The University of Michigan is also the lead institution for a recently awarded $25 million grant from NNSA to fund the Consortium for Verification Technology (CVT).  Her talk reinforced the critically important work of the CVT, which links the University of Michigan and thirteen other American universities with nine national laboratories to address technical challenges in nuclear verification and monitoring.  The CVT focuses on several thrust areas, such as fundamental data and techniques; advanced safeguards tools for accessible facilities; detection of undeclared activities and inaccessible facilities; and disarmament verification.  In each of these areas, graduate students are playing play a central role in interdisciplinary research projects led by faculty and laboratory experts who have demonstrated outstanding research capabilities and well-established collaborations.

As part of her visit, Deputy Administrator Harrington met with and observed the work of some of the more than 60 undergraduate and graduate students in CVT who perform research that will deliver new instruments and methods for nuclear nonproliferation, safeguards, and arms control treaty verification. CVT graduates will have strong ties to the national laboratory system thanks to the collaborative research projects in which they are engaging.

The CVT is one of three complementary university-national laboratory consortia sponsored by DNN’s Research and Development Office (DNN R&D), representing a total investment of $75 million (Fiscal Years 2010-2019).  DNN R&D directs an integrated research and development portfolio in support of its mission to detect signs of nuclear proliferation and nuclear detonations.  The DNN R&D-funded consortia have strong links to minority-serving institutions, are funded as five-year grants, and are viewed as important, long-term investments.

During her visit, Deputy Administrator Harrington also visited with additional researchers funded directly by the DNN R&D Program, including Professor Zhong He. Professor He is working to improve Special Nuclear Material monitoring and characterization with CZT, a radiation detection material that DNN has worked to develop for several years.  CZT’s main advantage is that it can detect gamma rays with good energy resolution at room temperature, free of often-operationally-prohibitive cooling systems. Professor He’s work seeks to apply and extend the principles of nuclear medical imaging for national security applications.

Deputy Administrator Harrington noted in her speech that as we look towards the emerging technologies that will revolutionize the future, we must “develop and support the mechanisms that allow the policy and technical communities to work together creatively, to steer their application toward the beneficial, and minimize their harmful application.” The CVT is exactly one such mechanism, charting a path towards a safer, more secure future.

CVT Focus & Thrust Areas

Challenge

Focus

Thrust Area

Consortium on Verification Technologies

New Technical Approaches to Address Gaps and Emerging Challenges

  • Fundamental Physical Data
    • Data Acquisition
    • Data Analysis Techniques

This thrust area focuses on the physics of fission, data analytics, and data acquisition for high-throughput systems.

 

Physical data (like nuclear cross section measurements), and improved data acquisition and analysis techniques, are needed across the breadth of applications in treaty verification and other nuclear security applications. 

 

Advanced Safeguards Tools for Accessible Facilities

This thrust area focuses on improved safeguards techniques.

 

 Special emphasis is on neutron multiplicity counting (requires understanding physics of fission as above), developing hand-held gamma imagers, stand-off measurements using laser interrogation systems, and chain of custody detectors.

 

Detection of Undeclared Activities and Inaccessible Facilities

This thrust area concentrates on the non-cooperative side of arms control. 

 

Research aims to improve our understanding of seismic signatures for nuclear detonation detection as well as infrasound (high frequency sound associated with nuclear explosions – even underground) and radionuclide signatures. 

 

Additional work focuses on identifying and modeling signatures from undeclared fuel cycle activities.

 

Disarmament Verification

This thrust area includes several approaches to disarmament verification. 

 

Some techniques are focused on radiation detection, managed access simulators, zero-knowledge protocols, and limited knowledge transmission nuclear resonance spectroscopy (NRF).