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U-M leads historic nuclear non-proliferation consortium

The University of Michigan is about to help make the world a safer place. The Department of Energy has issued a $25 million grant over five years to establish the Consortium for Verification Technology (CVT).| Medium Read

The University of Michigan is about to help make the world a safer place. The Department of Energy has issued a $25 million grant over five years to establish the Consortium for Verification Technology (CVT), consisting of thirteen leading universities and eight national laboratories, to address technology and policy issues in treaty-compliance monitoring.

The underlying issues include nuclear nonproliferation and safeguards in support of the mission of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development office. Sara Pozzi, an associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences will act as the consortium director.

The CVT will address major gaps and emerging challenges through six thrust areas:

  1. Treaty verification: characterizing existing gaps and emerging challenges
  2. Fundamental data and techniques
  3. Advanced safeguards tools for accessible facilities
  4. Detection of undeclared activities and inaccessible facilities
  5. Disarmament verification
  6. Education and outreach

“Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is a national priority and these issues were highlighted by NNSA as areas where there are gaps. The CVT’s over-arching theme is the advancement of the state-of-the-art in technologies and policies related to the verification of these treaties, ” says Pozzi. “The University of Michigan has a history of strength in most areas of nonproliferation and is in a position to lead this initiative. It is an extreme honor, and it is exciting for me to take on the role of consortium director.”

The goal of the CVT is to deliver new instruments and methods for nuclear nonproliferation, safeguards and arms control verification. The CVT team will educate more than 60 Bachelors, Masters and PhD students with the talent, training and commitment to meet the current and emerging challenges in this field.

“This consortium will be responsible for collecting data from such disparate areas as seismology, infrasound, optics, radiation measurements, intelligence gathering, policy and others to assess various nuclear-related scenarios. Nobody has integrated such a diverse group of experts in those fields for this singular purpose.  We are literally creating a toolbox, a combination of integrated diagnostic instruments, working with the national laboratories, close to the front lines, to assess areas of nuclear concern,” says David Wehe, Lead Scientist with CVT and Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Science at the University of Michigan.

U-M will be the lead institution on thrusts 2, 3 and 6 while Princeton University, Columbia University, and MIT will lead on 1, 4 and 5 respectively. Each thrust is supported by a team of contributing universities and national laboratories.

Alfred Hero, the R. Jamison and Betty Williams Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan and the lead on thrust 2 will be responsible for collecting all the information and interpreting the data.

“My thrust will be developing algorithms and establishing benchmarks to extract information from large, disparate, complex data sources relevant to treaty verification. This research presents a lot of challenges,” says Hero. “We need to be able to extract critical pieces of information where there is a potential adversary—quickly, with minimal redundancy and suspending judgment until confirmatory evidence can be detected.”

NERS Professor Zhong He, CVT lead for thrust #3, and his team have produced Polaris, a new generation of semi-conductor based gamma-ray and neutron spectrometers and imaging systems for the nuclear power industry, international nuclear non-proliferation and arms control and homeland security, which will be an important type of advanced safeguards tool at facilities handling nuclear materials.

The consortium will bring together experts in various fields, many of whom have never before collaborated. Hero, for example is looking forward to working with policy experts in nuclear non-proliferation. The lessons learned will result in not only a safer world but in an enhanced nuclear engineering curriculum. There are several UM faculty involved in this consortium, most of whom also have teaching and research responsibilities.

“When you really want to do something important, something you strongly believe in and will make a major impact on the world, like nuclear nonproliferation, you find a way to get it all done,” says Wehe.

Other U-M collaborators are Kim Kearfott and John Lee, professors in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences (NERS). U-M President Emeritus James Duderstadt will serve on the project’s advisory board.

Other university partners are North Carolina State University, University of Hawaii, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, Oregon State University, Yale University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Laboratory partners include the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and several National Laboratories, including Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Idaho.

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