Friday, May 25, 2018

Muons: the little-known particles helping to probe the impenetrable

Deviation muography, Nature illustration.

The muon is going mainstream, last year it helped archaeologists to make a stunning discovery of a previously unknown chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid. An international a meeting in May called Cosmic-ray Muography was sponsored by the Royal Society and held in Newport Pagnell, UK.

In the United States, trials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have found that similar technology can spot where fuel rods have been removed from casks of spent fuel. Just four stolen fuel rods would provide enough plutonium to build a primitive nuclear weapon, Los Alamos physicist Christopher Morris told the conference. (Full story)

Game-changing neutrino experiments

Illustration from Symmetry.

Neutrinos are known to oscillate between three known types, or flavors, as they move through space: electron, muon and tau. But in 1995, physicists working on the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector, or LSND, at Los Alamos National Laboratory stumbled upon clues that there may be an extra flavor hiding on the sidelines. They called it a “sterile neutrino,” a neutrino flavor that would not interact like the others. (Full story)

Los Alamos thankful for its ability to serve

Lab Director Terry Wallace

The U.S. government announced May 10 its recommended alternative for expanding the nation’s production of plutonium pits – the core of a nuclear weapon. They decided to maintain full-scale pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce 30 pits per year, with a surge capability for more, and to create additional capability at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce an additional 50 pits by 2030. This is the result of the government’s long-term analysis to determine how best to meet the recently released Nuclear Posture Review’s requirement to produce no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030 in support of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

This represents a big vote of confidence in Los Alamos National Laboratory by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the government agency that runs our national laboratories and other sites across the nation’s nuclear weapons enterprise. To fulfill its mission, the laboratory will need to continue its close partnership with NNSA, its sister laboratories including Sandia and Lawrence Livermore, and the entire nuclear security enterprise – and we are committed to doing just that. (Full story)

NASA looks to send a small nuclear reactor to the moon and Mars

Kilopower, NASA illustration.

The scientists said the results showed the system not only works but can withstand multiple induced failures.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston, the chief reactor designer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Kilopower project uses nuclear fission — the process in which an atom is split, releasing a tremendous amount of heat energy. Fission is used in nuclear power plants, although the space reactor is not large. (Full story)