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Consortium for Verification Technology: A strong start to year three

Michigan anchors consortium of universities and national labs working to shape nuclear policy and enforcement of nuclear treaties.| Medium Read

Kicking off the third annual Consortium for Verification Technology (CVT) Workshop, held in October 2016, NERS Professor and CVT Director Sara Pozzi highlighted a number of significant accomplishments from the CVT’s second full year.

The consortium, comprised of 12 universities and 9 national laboratories, is advancing the state-of-the-art in technologies and policies related to the verification of nuclear treaties and to training the next generation of nuclear professionals. Its work is supported by a five-year, $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The CVT addresses gaps and challenges in treaty verification through six thrust areas. As the effort heads into its third year, Pozzi highlighted a few key technical accomplishments.

In the area of fundamental physics and data, CVT investigators, including several national laboratory collaborators, developed new algorithms and models including those for emissions from nuclear fission, correlation-based anomaly and diversion detection, data acquisition and signal processing in emerging radiation detection technologies, and advanced image reconstruction.

In the area of advanced safeguards tools, principal investigators, students, postdoctoral researchers and national lab collaborators conducted neutron interrogation experiments with special nuclear materials at the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada in summer 2016. Systems used in the experiments included a neutron coded aperture imager, a dual particle imager, developed by faculty at UM, and Polaris/Orion Compton scatter gamma imagers, also developed by UM faculty.

“It was an exceptional opportunity for students to get out of the university laboratory and help conduct these type of experiments with actual special nuclear material at the Nevada facility on such advanced technologies,” Pozzi said.

In the area of detection of undeclared activities, CVT researchers analyzed seismic signals from the January 2016 nuclear event in North Korea and determined that it was of comparable magnitude to nuclear weapons tests in May 2009 and February 2013. The team also performed an initial analysis of infrasound and radionuclide data from the International Monitoring System in order to characterize the type of event that occurred.

For the thrust area on verification of future disarmament treaties, the CVT collected nuclear resonance fluorescence data from uranium-238 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a CVT partner. The team showed that nuclear resonances of U-238 can be used for isotopic identification and developed a prototype system to demonstrate hardware-based zero-knowledge protocols.

The CVT Workshop included student talks and a new student presentation award, won by Tony Shin (UM), Michael Hamel (UM), Michael Streicher (UM), Pete Chapman (North Carolina State University) and Mark Walker (Princeton University), as well as poster sessions and technology demonstrations. Attendees had an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with two technologies developed at UM: a fast neutron multiplicity counter for safeguards applications and the Orion digital 3-D CZT detector.

Since its start in 2014, the CVT has supported 127 students, from undergraduates to postdoctoral fellows. Forty-seven students have participated in internships with national laboratories, and, through an innovative National Laboratory Scientist Fellowship, five investigators from national labs have spent time on the campuses of collaborating CVT universities.

Work through the CVT has led to the publication of 70 journal articles – and coverage in a New Yorker article. “The Virtues of Nuclear Ignorance” by New Yorker contributor Alex Wellerstein appeared in the September 20, 2016 issue.

In addition, Pozzi was featured in an Elsevier Special Issue, “Celebrating Women in Physics,” for her publication and work on “MCNP-PoliMi: a Monte-Carlo code for correlation measurements.” The CVT also hosted an annual workshop to educate new users of the MCNPX-PoliMi code.

Other recognition included CVT Assistant Director and NERS Associate Research Scientist Shaun Clarke, who won the 2016 Institute of Nuclear Materials Management Early Career Award. Graduate students Ciara Sivels and Elizabeth Hou won poster competitions, and several other CVT graduate students were part of the team that won the 2015 American Nuclear Society Student Design Competition for its work on “Zero Knowledge Active Interrogation of Nuclear Warheads.”

“It’s been a stimulating and productive year for the CVT, and that puts us on track to continue progress toward our mission,” said Pozzi. “Our success to date is in no small part due to amazing collaborations with our university and national laboratory partners and to the dedication and energy of our students. The CVT brings so many disciplines together – it’s an inspiring example of how the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Steven Winters
Human Resources Generalist

Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences

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The outside of the Ford Robotics building

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