U.S. Agency to Spend Millions on Improving Arms Control Verification Methods

Sarah Pozzi, a University of Michigan professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, listens to a student's project presentation last June. Pozzi is to lead a new initiative at the school that will use a large federal grant to develop new nuclear nonproliferation verification technologies.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 1, 2014, 11:09 a.m.

The U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment has awar­ded a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar re­search grant to ex­plore new tech­no­lo­gies for veri­fy­ing for­eign non­pro­lif­er­a­tion com­mit­ments.

A con­sor­ti­um of uni­versit­ies will use the $25 mil­lion grant by the de­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion over the next half-dec­ade to in­vest­ig­ate, among oth­er things, geo­phys­ic­al mod­els for aid­ing in the con­firm­a­tion of un­der­ground atom­ic ex­plo­sions. Re­search will also look in­to meth­ods for veri­fy­ing that na­tions are not il­li­citly di­vert­ing nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als to­ward weapons pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to an NNSA news re­lease.

An­oth­er goal of the re­search ini­ti­at­ive is to pre­pare a new gen­er­a­tion of sci­ent­ists for ca­reers in the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion field, said NNSA Deputy Ad­min­is­trat­or for De­fense Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Anne Har­ring­ton.

“De­vel­op­ing the R&D ex­pert­ise of to­mor­row can take years to cul­tiv­ate,” she said in a re­leased state­ment. “But we are link­ing na­tion­al labor­at­or­ies and aca­demia by fund­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of re­search­ers to per­form com­plex re­search and gain un­der­stand­ing of tech­nic­al chal­lenges in the areas of ma­jor im­port­ance for the nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion mis­sion.”

The Uni­versity of Michigan is lead­ing the group of 13 aca­dem­ic in­sti­tu­tions, which will be work­ing with a group of na­tion­al labor­at­or­ies on the vari­ous pro­jects.

Some re­search­ers will be in­vest­ig­at­ing new tech­no­lo­gies aimed at de­term­in­ing wheth­er the quant­ity and con­cen­tra­tion of an atom­ic-en­ergy site’s nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als ac­tu­ally match the fig­ures de­clared by the fa­cil­ity to the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency, ac­cord­ing to a Uni­versity of Michigan press re­lease. De­vel­op­ing new veri­fic­a­tion meth­ods could en­able IAEA in­spect­ors to no longer carry out the lengthy and ex­pens­ive pro­cess of open­ing up sites’ nuc­le­ar-ma­ter­i­al stor­age con­tain­ers.

Oth­er sci­ent­ists are to work on a pro­ject fo­cused on con­firm­ing that na­tions are turn­ing atom­ic war­head ma­ter­i­al in­to ci­vil­ian re­act­or fuel, and are not pro­cessing oth­er, less sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als in­to fuel as a means of evad­ing their dis­arm­a­ment com­mit­ments.

“In Rus­sia, the Mega­tons to Mega­watts pro­gram con­ver­ted hun­dreds of met­ric tons from war­heads in­to nuc­le­ar fuel used in the U.S.,” Sara Pozzi, a Uni­versity of Michigan as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or of nuc­le­ar en­gin­eer­ing and ra­di­olo­gic­al sci­ences, said in provided com­ments. “In these scen­ari­os, again, we need tools to veri­fy that what is be­ing turned in­to fuel is in­deed a nuc­le­ar war­head and not some oth­er form of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al.”

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