Antineutrino Detector Could Spot Atom Bomb Cheats

Ghostly particles tell power levels and plutonium stock

4 min read

9 April 2008—Part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s job of ensuring nuclear safety is to make certain that civilian reactors are not diverting any nuclear material to make weapons. A few kilograms of plutoniumis enough to make a nuclear weapon, and in the United States alone civilian reactors generate hundreds of bombs’ worth of plutonium every year. The IAEA could get much-needed monitoring help from a new type of detector that researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in California, and Sandia National Laboratories, in New Mexico, recently tested. By detecting particles known as antineutrinos that fly out of the reactor, the device measures the reactor’s power and how much uranium and plutonium are present in the core.

The IAEA’s inspectors could verify if this information matches up with what is expected for a reactor of its size. During their operation, nuclear reactors consume uranium and create plutonium, so knowing the power level, for instance, would tell the inspector how quickly plutonium is being built up in the reactor core. ”If you operate at twice the power, you would build up plutonium at a significantly faster rate than at standard power,” says Adam Bernstein, an LLNL physicist who is leading the work.

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Practical Power Beaming Gets Real

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true

8 min read
This nighttime outdoor image, with city lights in the background, shows a narrow beam of light shining on a circular receiver that is positioned on the top of a pole.

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle.

PowerLight Technologies

Wires have a lot going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? It’s a nuisance.

Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way. And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.

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