Exploiting passive gamma signals from weapons grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons pit storage
Paul, Jessica Nicole
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Using computational deterministic and Monte Carlo methods, I present an analysis of the gamma and neutron signatures emitted from special nuclear material (SNM) in weapons stockpile storage scenarios. My efforts are focused on 1 year old, 25 year old, 50 year old, and 75 year old highly enriched uranium (HEU), and 1 year old, 22.5 year old, and 50 year old weapons grade plutonium (WGPu). HEU gammas are easily shielded, and when reasonably shielded, do not produce a definable signature at low energies; however, using new methods applied in this work that involve analyzing the higher energy, penetrating gammas from HEU, it can be shown that not only the presence of the HEU can be verified, but also the age since separation of the material can be discerned. Through computational modeling, I am able to verify that the novel methods investigated are both unique and effective for HEU detection. In addition, I also present my investigation of similar methods applied to the detection of WGPu. From this work I determined that WGPu age discrimination is more challenging compared to that of HEU (in spite of more radiation per unit mass) due to the high rate of induced gammas from n-gamma interactions taking place within the Pu metal and container; however, I believe that by combining neutron detection with gamma signature verification of WGPu, the approach identified can be successful. I present the neutron signature of the WGPu and how it would be observed in the detector used for material verification. I calculated the detector response for a pre-determined neutron detector design using adjoint calculations in order to determine whether the detector will perform as designed. In addition to developing a new protocol for WGPu detection, I present in this work, a comprehensive source book as a product of this research, detailing the gamma and neutron signatures for both solid and shell configurations of HEU and WGPu. This can serve as a very beneficial guide for anyone interested in modeling SNM, since the many steps needed to obtain this radiation leakage data will save a significant amount of researcher time. The results from my work have contributed to a collaborative effort supporting funded US department of State research towards designing a mobile detection system that can rapidly validate and verify the presence of SNM in weapons pit containers.