Future arms control agreements may require trusted verification mechanisms aimed at confirming the authenticity of items presented as nuclear warheads. In the last five years, our team has been pioneering a warhead verification approach based on the cryptographic concept of zero-knowledge proofs. This approach could allow the authentication of nuclear warheads without sharing any design information.
The original idea was published in Nature in June 2014. Since then, we have been working on the development of a zero-knowledge object-comparison system and the procedures for its use in nuclear warhead inspections. The demonstration of such a system is now outlined in a Nature Communications article published on September 20, 2016.
For more information, you can check our zero-knowledge warhead verification project page. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has made a video about the experiments (see the press release here).
Alex Wellerstein has written a nice story about our work and experiments in the New Yorker.
The Nuclear Futures Lab has recently established a presence at StudioLab — a new 2500 sq. ft space on campus developed by the Council on Science and Technology to bring together students, faculty and staff, independent of area of concentration, to explore the intersections and shared creativity across STEM, the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Programmatic initiatives within the StudioLab will include courses, labs, studios, research, projects, workshops and events.
The NFL recently installed its Full Motion Virtual Reality (FMVR) system in the space, which will give students and faculty new opportunities to conduct research through virtual reality. The NFL is currently using the system to design and examine new treaty verification systems and architectures for nuclear arms control. Notional facilities and weapons are built as 3D models, and when these are brought to life in FMVR, researchers are able to conduct live, immersive simulations that will help to hone effective verification options for future treaties.
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.
We are pleased to announce that Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative will support NFL’s “Re-Engineering the Nuclear Future” project directed by Alexander Glaser and M. V. Ramana. The project will explore the shapes of alternative nuclear futures looking in particular at emerging technologies, many still in the R&D stage, that may be potential game changers. Research will also focus on the broader energy context and examine how nuclear power would fit into a modern low-carbon energy system that may be more decentralized than today’s system and emphasize flexibility, energy efficiency, and small-scale solutions. The project will bring together a unique set of skills in computing, engineering, energy technologies, and policy analysis available in Princeton’s School of Engineering and the Woodrow Wilson School. This first phase of this project will focus on Small Modular Reactors (SMR), a new type of reactor designs currently under development in the United States, Russia, China, France, Japan, and South Korea. Having power levels that are a fraction of those of existing power reactors and featuring new design approaches (including, for example, underground construction), SMR may be the most serious candidate technology in the nuclear area today. There have been few independent reviews of these systems so far. This project seeks to fill this gap and help establish the basis for a more informed debate on the possible role of SMR.