A new scanning method may be able to verify a nuclear bomb’s authenticity without revealing secrets about its design to the tester, Agence France-Presse reports.
“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,” Robert Goldston, a Princeton University astrophysics professor, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The technique may ultimately prove useful in carrying out monitoring activities under a strategic arms control treaty between Russia and the United States, according to AFP. It could also help to confirm any proliferation of nuclear arms to a government or nonstate actor, the wire service said.
The method — outlined in a Wednesday article in Nature — involves determining the contents of a possible bomb by counting how many neutrons from a directed energy beam can pass from one side to another, according to AFP. The findings are matched against a readout prepared in advance by the weapon’s owner, eliminating any need for the tester to view sensitive details on the bomb’s inner workings.
“This approach really is very interesting and elegant,” said Steve Fetter, an assistant head of the White House Science and Technology Policy Office. “The main question is whether it can be implemented in practice.”
An initiative to refine the method at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department.