Nuclear Disarmament Verification via Resonant Phenomena

William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Areg Danagoulian

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Abstract: Nuclear disarmament treaties are not sufficient in and of themselves to neutralize the existential threat of the nuclear weapons. Technologies are necessary for verifying the authenticity of the nuclear warheads undergoing dismantlement before counting them towards a treaty partner’s obligation. A team of scientists working at MIT has developed two novel concepts which leverage isotope-specific nuclear resonance phenomena to authenticate a warhead's fissile components by comparing them to a previously authenticated template.  Most actinides such as uranium and plutonium exhibit unique sets of resonances when interacting with MeV photons and eV neutrons. When measured, these resonances produce isotope-specific features in the spectral data, thus creating an isotopic  "fingerprint" of an object. All information in these measurement has to be and is encrypted in the physical domain in a manner that amounts to a physical zero-knowledge proof system. Using Monte Carlo simulations and experimental proof-of-concept measurements these techniques are shown to reveal no isotopic or geometric information about the weapon, while readily detecting hoaxing attempts. These new methodologies can dramatically increase the reach and trustworthiness of future nuclear disarmament treaties.  The talk will discuss the concepts and recent results, and will give a general overview of nuclear security research pursued at MIT.


Bio: Areg Danagoulian is an Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.  He did his PhD research in Experimental Nuclear Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Areg’s PhD thesis focused on experiments that used real Compton scattering on the proton at 2-6 GeV, allowing to probe the proton's internal structure and understand how it couples to external excitations. After his PhD Areg worked at Los Alamos as a postdoctoral researcher, and then as a senior scientist at Passport Systems, Inc. (PSI). At PSI Areg focused on the development of Prompt Neutron from Photofission (PNPF) technique, which allows to rapidly detect shielded fissionable materials in the commercial cargo traffic. Areg's current research interests focus on scientific applications in nuclear security, such areas nuclear nonproliferation, technologies for treaty verification, nuclear safeguards, and cargo security. Current specific research areas include:  warhead verification using nuclear resonances;  use of nuclear reactions for high precision radiography in nuclear security applications.