Virginia Tech develop device expected to track nuclear activity by rogue nations
The multiple year long project, dubbed 'CHANDLER', is expected to prevent the development of nuclear weapons that could be dangerous for the U.S.The system will be used to track neutrinos which are created in large amounts during plant operation, the cast-off neutrinos that escape the reactor cannot be shielded or disguised, thus creating a foolproof tracking system for regulators. Researchers at the Virginia Tech College of Science said neutrinos can tell them how much plutonium is inside a nuclear reactor, as a certain level is considered dangerous and only used to make weapons.
Patrick Huber, a Professor of Physics on the project explained, \"Basically we're looking at the colors of the neutrino, and in that way we can say there's plutonium in the reactor or not\". The prototype iscurrently at Dominion Power's North Anna Nuclear Generating Station near Richmond. But the plan would be to stretch the detection to every country in the world.
\"You would put one of these next to each reactor you want to survey, and basically you have to understand that right now the International Atomic Energy Agency is inspecting about 400 reactors around the globe,\" Huber said.
Johnathan Link is a Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Neutrino Physics, he said, \"We can actually replace the processes where we have to trust what people are telling us about how they're producing and what they're doing with the spent nuclear fuel, and instead we can track for ourselves.\" Link believes rogue nations that balk at having to submit to inspections would have no reason to refuse such a small, unobtrusive device.The prototype is roughly a two-foot that weighs about 175 pounds, costing about $250,000 to make, funded by Virginia Tech and the National Science Foundation.
The actual detectors will cost about $2 million a piece. The researchers will demonstrate what they have now and hopefully get funding to build the real thing and put them around the world.
Anna Erickson is an assistant professor of the Nuclear and Radiological Engineering Program at Georgia Tech, where she researches nuclear reactor design and nuclear detection with a focus on the needs for proliferation-resistant nuclear power. She is not involved with the CHANDLER project, but said the neutrino project by Virginia Tech could set a new standard for antineutrino detectors, a field stalled by tricky technology, including the sizes of previous devices too large for easy assembly, transport, and setup. Previous detectors used liquid scintillators, rather than solid plastic as does CHANDLER.
“This could open a new path for antineutrino-based reactor monitoring technology,” she said.