February 7, 2008

To Serve Man...Neutrinos

I love the idea of putting neutrinos to use for something. Anything really -- they are so difficult to detect that at this point we are working for them. But I am hopeful that mankind may, one day turn the tables on the weak reaction and put it to use for the good of humanity, as these folks are trying to do.

AIP Physics Bulletin: Anti Neutrinos and Nonproliferation

A new compact detector may help international inspectors peer inside a working nuclear reactor in a non-intrusive way by directly measuring the flux of anti-neutrinos coming out. Since their first use, nuclear reactors have, at least in principle, been closely related with nuclear weapons. For example, reactors produce plutonium which can later be fashioned into bomb material. The question of how to monitor the actual operation of a particular reactor and compare the changing plutonium inventory to what is expected from normal operations (producing electric power, say) is a large component of nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

For some perspective on this, the picture is, of course, of the Super Kamiokande detector. The Super-K can tell the direction neutrinos are coming from and detect weaker energy ones than you'd be looking for coming out of a reactor. Even considering this, a cubic-meter sized detector, as is being developed by the folks in the article, would be quite an accomplishment.