Cosmic rays can be used to gain information from damaged nuclear reactors. This conclusion was made by a team of researchers from the multidisciplinary research institution- Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In their attempt to understand what happened inside the reactor at Fukushima after the disaster, they assessed two existing methods: Los Alamos’s scattering method for cosmic-ray radiography and the traditional transmission method for capturing high-resolution image data of potentially damaged nuclear material.
The lead author of the article published in Physical Review Letters, Konstantin Borozdin, states that effectively locating damaged parts of reactor cores can help the cleanup after an incident. The author indicates that Los Alamos’s scattering method should be the preferred one for gaining high-quality images of core materials.
Cosmic-ray radiography, also known as Muon radiography, uses particles created when collision of cosmic rays with upper regions of Earth’s atmosphere occur. This produces images of the objects that the particles, aka muons, penetrate.
Muons are produced naturally, and they are known to fall on Earth every second. In that sense, the study indicates that if a pair of muons is placed around the object of interest, the degree of scatter can be measured.
This method is particularly applicable for elements with high atomic number, such as uranium. Reactors, which contain this element, can be located using the muon scattering method. The team simulated a nuclear reactor using a computer model, producing high-resolution images that indicated missing material from the core, and its current location within the containment building.
The authors are proud to present a concept that can be used to prevent human exposure to high radiation. In addition, Borozdin et al. suggest that this method can also assist the planning and execution of the remediation process.
Although the method was developed to serve Fukushima, it can also be applied in detecting smuggling of clandestine nuclear materials. Heavily shielded contraband can be found without having to breach a container or a vehicle.