A New Approach to a Longstanding Challenge in Nuclear Arms Control

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A New Approach to a Longstanding Challenge in Nuclear Arms Control
"It is easier to make a replacement nuclear weapon from scratch than to try to pass off a fake object as a weapon," says R. Scott Kemp in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering about a new method to verify that a country's claimed warheads are authentic without disclosing classified information. Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Enginering

Scientists from MIT have developed a new approach to overcome the challenge of controlling nuclear arms. This new approach consists of nuclear resonance fluorescence, a new form of single-pixel tomography, and careful attention to the information content of physical processes. This new method detects nuclear warhead’s type and condition without the operator knowing anything technical about the warhead itself.

In 2010, the United States and Russia signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction. Both countries to a cap of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each by February 2018. Still, there are no feeds for controlling thousands of weapons that will be removed from deployment to satisfy the treaty. Therefore, there is no way to know whether the other side’s weapons are being stored for later use, destroyed, or even sold on the black market.

In nuclear resonance fluorescence, photons absorbed by an atom’s nucleus. If warhead replaces important weapon’s plutonium parts with the proxy material, that replacement will be identified. This identification is done because each material performs a different nuclear-absorption behaviour. This system of controlling nuclear arms is also able to discover any geometric changes to the warhead or warhead’s pieces have gone missing.

Kemp, the Norman C. Rasmussen Career Development Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, said, “What really sets our method apart is the extent to which we can rule out cheating scenarios. We mathematically define the space of all theoretical objects that could spoof the system into thinking it was measuring a real warhead. We then designed a protocol that reduced the space to a subset of objects that are more difficult to manufacture than a real warhead. In other words, it is easier to make a replacement nuclear weapon from scratch than to try to pass off a fake object as a weapon.”

Acton, specialized in deterrence, disarmament, and non-proliferation, said, “we will require a verifying method that holds warheads are authentic without disclosing classified information. To date, arms control require warheads to be removed from delivery vehicles. Such warheads can be placed in storage instead of being destroyed.”

Other similar techniques depend on upon electronics. But scientists doesn’t fully trust on electronics. They think that using electronics may secretly record information or have hidden functionality, and they are prone to hacks and side-channel exploits. Such kind of techniques also kept national secrets at risk or failed to detect even very simple cheating.

The assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, Danagoulian said, “This technique of controlling nuclear arms has the same goal with the physics intrinsic to the process. That means you can’t hack the nature’s law. We hope, Russian scientists assimilate these ideas and, after thorough scrutiny, will agree to work together using this general framework.”

In conclusion, this new method has become as an essential solution for ongoing global security improvements.