Radical Reactors, Part 1

NFL-mask-msre Molten salt reactors (MSRs) are often advocated as a radical but worthwhile alternative to traditional reactor concepts based on solid fuels. In a paper published in the Annals of Nuclear Energy in January 2015, Ali Ahmad, Edward McClamrock and Alexander Glaser study the resource requirements and proliferation-risk attributes of denatured molten salt reactors.

The analysis presented in the paper confirms that MSRs could offer significant advantages with regard to resource efficiency compared to conventional thermal reactors based on light-water reactor technology. Depending on specific design choices, even fully denatured reactors could reduce uranium and enrichment requirements by approximately a factor of 3–4, even when operated on an open fuel cycle. As for the implications associated with proliferation risk, fully denatured single-fluid reactors using low-enriched make-up fuel appear as the most promising candidate technology minimizing overall proliferation risks and should, in our view, therefore receive particular attention despite being less attractive from the perspective of resource utilization.

Nature Article on Nuclear Warhead Verification

We have put together a webpage summarizing the main challenges of nuclear disarmament verification and the concept of the template approach for warhead authentication, which is the basis for the Nature article from June 2014. The page also provides a brief overview of other verification projects currently underway and includes a list of useful readings.

Note also the story on the article in Science.

Nuclear Transparency Scorecard

Zia Mian and Alex Glaser presented at the 2014 NPT Prepcom in New York on behalf of the International Panel on Fissile Materials on next steps the nuclear weapons states can take to increase transparency of their nuclear weapon and fissile material stockpiles as part of meeting their obligations under the NPT 2010 “Action Plan on Nuclear Disarmament.”

The presentation (PDF) was co-sponsored by the Missions of the Netherlands and of Japan, represented by Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast of the Netherlands and Ambassador Toshio Sano of Japan.

It’s Official: $3.5M for Nuclear Disarmament Research at Princeton

CVT We are happy to announce that we are part of the consortium that has been awarded the $25 million five-year grant to improve nuclear arms control verification technology (see NNSA press release from March 31, 2014). The consortium will be led by the University of Michigan, and also involves MIT, Columbia, North Carolina State, University of Hawaii, Pennsylvania State, Duke, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, Oregon State, Yale, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Princeton leads a key research thrust of the consortium focused on the relevant policy dimensions: “Treaty Verification: Characterizing Existing Gaps and Emerging Challenges.” Together with PPPL, we will also be able to expand our technical work on zero-knowledge approach to nuclear warhead verification and will be developing a virtual environment to support development, testing, and demonstration of verification approaches for these treaties. We will report regularly at nuclearfutures.princeton.edu on the progress of this exciting opportunity. Watch this space.

A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor

We have recently published an article on Iran’s Arak reactor in the April 2014 issue of Arms Control Today, proposing technical steps that would provide assurance that Iran could not quickly make sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon with the Arak reactor (A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor, by Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser, and Zia Mian). The suggested redesign of the Arak reactor would reduce plutonium production to less than one kilogram per year, comparable to the reduction that would be accomplished by replacing the Arak reactor with a light-water research reactor. At the same time, the proposed changes would not reduce the usefulness of the reactor for making radioisotopes and conducting research. We believe, this approach would meet Iran’s needs and would address the concerns of the international community as reflected by the P5+1.

The story has been picked up quite widely beginning on April 2, 2014, with a Reuters article.


NFL-winners Not only was the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize announced today, we are also happy to report that M. V. Ramana and Zia Mian were recognized this week for their work on global security issues. M. V. Ramana together with R. Rajaraman (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) has received the American Physical Society’s 2014 Leo Szilard Award “for outstanding contributions to promote global security issues, through critical analyses of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programs in India and associated risks in the subcontinent, and efforts to promote peace and nuclear security in South Asia though extensive engagements and writings.” The Leo Szilard Award was established to recognize outstanding accomplishments by physicists in promoting the use of physics for the benefit of society in such areas as the environment, arms control, and science policy. Zia Mian has been awarded the 2014 Linus Pauling Legacy Award on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Linus Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was established in 2001 to honor individuals who have achieved in areas of interest to Linus Pauling.


Nuclear Archaeology for Gaseous Diffusion Plants

k25-2 The field of nuclear archaeology aims to develop the methods and tools to verify past production of fissile materials for military purposes, which may become necessary to support the verification of future arms control agreements that envision deeper cuts in the nuclear arsenals. So far, techniques have been successfully demonstrated for reconstructing historic plutonium production, especially in graphite-moderated reactors, but nuclear archaeology for uranium enrichment has proven much more challenging.

During the 2013 Annual INMM meeting, Sebastien Philippe and Alex Glaser presented a paper on nuclear archaeology for gaseous diffusion enrichment plant (GDEP). Gaseous diffusion was historically the most widely used technology for military production of highly enriched uranium. We propose a new approach to verify the production history of GDEP based on a mathematical model of a reference plant cascade and a nuclear forensic analysis of solid uranium particles deposited over time in the tubular separation membranes of the stage diffusers. Have a look (paper, slides).

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dismantle the Bomb

ggg Princeton University (and PPPL) recently ran a story about our nuclear warhead verification project, which has been picked up by some news media, including Gizmodo.

As a quick follow up: We will have a new paper with our most recent results, so far all based on MCNP computer calculations, at the INMM Annual Meeting this July in Palm Desert. In the meantime, here is a set of slides from a recent talk at Yale summarizing additional details of the proposed protocol and some initial simulated results.

An Open Letter to President Obama: The Time on the Doomsday Clock is Five Minutes to Midnight

By Robert Socolow, Thomas Rosenbaum, Lawrence J. Korb, Lynn Eden, Rod Ewing, Alexander Glaser, James E. Hansen, Sivan Kartha, Edward “Rocky” Kolb, Lawrence M. Krauss, Leon Lederman, Ramamurti Rajaraman, M. V. Ramana, Robert Rosner, Jennifer Sims, Richard C. J. Somerville, and Elizabeth J. Wilson

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board announces its 2013 decision to keep in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock: It will remain at five minutes to midnight. In this open letter to US President Barack Obama, the Board presents its views on the key issues that affected its decision and provides the president with recommendations to consider in 2013 and throughout his second term.

Read the letter here.

WANTED: PhD Students. Again.

The Nuclearfutures Laboratory has openings for graduate students interested in studying interdisciplinary problems related to nuclear energy, nuclear nonproliferation, and nuclear disarmament verification. Students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree through the Nuclearfutures Laboratory can either apply for a PhD program in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) or for a PhD program in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS).

See the PROJECTS section on this site for more details about ongoing research at the Laboratory. Please write to Alexander Glaser if you have questions about admission procedures, the Laboratory’s activities and possible topics for a thesis.

FMCT Scientific Experts Meetings

The governments of the Netherlands and Germany organized two Scientific Experts Meetings at the Conference on Disarmament in May and August 2012 on “Technical Issues Related to a Treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” — otherwise known as the FMCT. A couple of us had the honor to participate as panelists in these meetings: Zia Mian assessed the future of military fissile material production facilities in South Asia; Frank von Hippel talked about the challenges of military nuclear sites and naval fuel cycles under an FMCT; and Alex Glaser spoke about verifying the non-production of highly enriched uranium. Other panelists included Bart Dal, Ben Dekker, Jacques Ebrardt, Joachim Lausch, Ramamurti Rajaraman, Therese Renis, Peter Schwalbach, and Neil Tuley. The reports of these meetings are now available as UN Reports CD/1935 and CD/1943. There was a broad consensus among the participants that it would be useful for interested governments to support research on technical issues relating to the verification of a FMCT now, even before negotiations begin.

Postdoc Position Opening: Nuclear Warhead Verification

A postdoctoral or more senior research position is available with Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, an initiative of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Program on Science and Global Security of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The position will involve independent and collaborative research to support an active project on nuclear warhead verification, including experimental work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), Monte-Carlo computer-modeling, and validation of experimental and simulated data. Additional responsibilities will include work with and supervision of undergraduate and graduate students in the group and project support of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. Applicants should have a PhD in nuclear engineering or the physical sciences and have expertise in radiation detector technologies and verification approaches. Preference will be given to candidates with demonstrated interest in policy issues related to nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament.

The initial appointment will be for one year, with the possibility of reappointment contingent on satisfactory performance and funding. The salary will be determined on a case-by-case basis commensurate with experience. Applications should apply online at jobs.princeton.edu (#1200676) and include a cover letter, resume, 2–3 sample publications, and names of three references. Application review begins November 1, 2012, and continues until position is filled.

Individuals with evidence of experience in scholarly research in the prescribed areas are encouraged to apply. Princeton University is an equal opportunity employer and complies with applicable EEO and affirmative action regulations.

Zero-Knowledge Nuclear Warhead Verification

Over the past eight months, we have been working on a new approach to nuclear warhead verification, generously funded by Global Zero. As part of this effort, we are seeking to develop and demonstrate the proof-of-concept for an inspection system that, by design, cannot divulge any classified information … because it is never measured. In cryptography, this is called a a zero-knowledge proof. In such a proof, Person A (the host) proves to Person B (the inspector) that a proposition is true without revealing why the proposition is true, i.e., in this case, that a genuine warhead is presented for verification or dismantlement without revealing any design information about it. One of our collaborators is Boaz Barak, a cryptography expert and Senior Researcher with Microsoft Research, New England. Earlier this year, Boaz has given talks focused on some of the conceptual ideas at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (announcement and video) and at the Newton Institute in Cambridge, UK (video). The project will involve experiments and measurements that are currently being set up at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. We will regularly report on the progress.

In July, Alex Glaser, Boaz Barak, and Rob Goldston presented first results of this research at the 2012 INMM Meeting held in Orlando, Florida (paper and slides).

Here are also the slides from an earlier but longer talk given at PPPL.

2012 International Energy Workshop

Alex Glaser was one of the keynote speakers at the 2012 International Energy Workshop held at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His talk reviewed the international responses to the Fukushima Accidents and assessed the potential impact on deployment trajectories for nuclear power, noting that many energy scenarios still envision an early and large expansion of nuclear power on a global scale. Partly as a result of the Fukushima accidents from March 2011, many of these growth projections have become increasingly unrealistic.

The talk also examined the prospects of small modular reactors, which have begun to attract significant attention as an alternative to standard gigawatt-scale plants. Taken together, these recent developments suggest that nuclear power may play a more limited role in a future low-carbon energy system than previously anticipated. The slides of the talk are available here.

Proliferation Risks of Magnetic Fusion Energy

Nuclear proliferation risks from magnetic fusion energy associated with access to weapon-usable materials can be divided into three main categories: (1) clandestine production of weapon-usable material in an undeclared facility, (2) covert production of such material in a declared facility and (3) use of a declared facility in a breakout scenario, in which a state begins production of fissile material without concealing the effort.

In a recent paper published in Nuclear Fusion, A. Glaser and R. J. Goldston address each of these categories of risks from fusion. For each case, they find that the proliferation risk from fusion systems can be much lower than the equivalent risk from fission systems, if (and only if) fusion systems are designed to accommodate appropriate safeguards. At the next INMM Meeting in July 2012, Goldston and Glaser will have a follow-on paper that focuses more explicitly on some of the safeguards requirements for fusion reactors.