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.
Areg Danagoulian is an assistant professor at MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. His teaching and research focus on leveraging nuclear physics to mitigate the dangers of nuclear materials and weapons. He is currently working on new, monochromatic methodologies for cargo screening as well as technologies for treaty verification via physical cryptography. After completing his PhD in experimental nuclear physics in 2006 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Areg moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked on a variety of research areas including stockpile stewardship, physics beyond the standard model, and nuclear security. He then worked for six years in industry, where he developed an award-winning active interrogation system which is currently being used to screen commercial cargoes for the presence of fissionable materials.