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An Investigation into the Passive Detection of High Explosives for Warhead Confirmation in Future Warhead Dismantlement Treaties

  • MIT Room 24-213 24 Cambridge, MA 02142 (map)

Mareena Robinson-Snowden

MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering

Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. has expressed the desire to further efforts in nuclear arms control, specifically continuing bilateral U.S.-Russia reductions of nuclear weapons. Previous bilateral treaties between the two nations have focused on limiting testing or reducing the number of deployed weapons, however no progress has been made on verifiable dismantlement.

The process of dismantling a nuclear warhead has a number of stages, each with its own challenges. The strength of a bilateral dismantlement agreement rests on the efficiency and accuracy of the verification regime established to measure compliance. The verification techniques must give confidence to the inspecting country that compliance is being observed while ensuring the national secrets of the inspected party are not being revealed.

In this talk, we will examine one aspect of verified dismantlement: warhead confirmation. Based on a simplified open-source warhead model, this work looks at the potential of using high-energy gamma rays produced by thermal neutron capture inside the high explosive as a signature for its presence. Through simulation and experimental investigation of a 252Cf surrogate, we aim to show that a warhead presented at the first stage of dismantlement can be confirmed passively and in a non-sensitive manner.