Nuclear weapons authentication using an attribute information barrier:
A feasibility study
This project at the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Centre for Science and Peace Research at the University of Hamburg (ZNF) deals with disarmament verification of nuclear warheads. Disarmament verification refers to monitoring and inspecting the dismantlement process of individual warheads. Such a process does not exist yet, but it will likely become relevant in a world with fewer nuclear weapons stocks on the road to a world free of nuclear weapons. In preparation, scientific expertise should be developed in this area.
The current state of research in regard to disarmament verification is quite limited. There are only a couple of publications on this topic and few concrete scientific or technical research results. Because of this, many legitimate questions and concerns remain unresolved, which necessitates further research. The project at the ZNF constitutes the beginning of a comprehensive and independent scientific investigation of disarmament verification; it seeks to inspire further activities, and connect relevant experts worldwide.
Measurement of warheads
An important aspect of a comprehensive verification mechanism is the authentication of nuclear warheads. The term “authentication” in this context refers to verifying that a nuclear warhead that has been dismantled was indeed a nuclear warhead – not a dummy. This can be accomplished by means of nuclear measurements on the dismantled components of the warhead. Gamma spectroscopy and neutron multiplicity counting are well-suited techniques.
From neutron measurements, experienced inspectors can gain information that allows them to learn about nuclear weapon design. Naturally, some information is required for authentication purposes. However, there is also a great deal of information that needs to be protected in the interest of nonproliferation and national security. An information barrier (IB) can be used to equip the inspector with an appropriate amount of information, without also making sensitive information available. IB only reveal non-sensitive output as the result of automated and invisible verification analyses of measurements. In other words, IBs analyse measurements using an algorithm, and only disclose the result.
The project consists of a conceptual and a technical component. The conceptual component will investigate political dimensions that need to be considered. The project is merely a feasibility study to demonstrate that authentication of nuclear weapons is possible solely through the measurement of their components. To demonstrate this feasibility, experiments are performed and backed-up by simulations in the context of the technical component. Since no warhead components are available for measurements, HEU and weapons grade plutonium will be used in gram quantities to develop an IB that authenticates small masses. Measurements are performed in collaboration with the Institute for Transuranium Elements of the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy. For this reason, this feasibility study does not directly deal with authenticating nuclear warheads, but tasks itself instead with other nuclear materials (smaller masses). The results can, however, be directly transferred to the scenario of weapons authentication.
The desired outcome of the project is the demonstration of technical feasibility, taking political conditions into consideration. The research results shall be communicated to political decision makers.
Malte Göttsche - dissertation
Arne Schmüse – diploma thesis
Thomas Gniffke – diploma thesis
Fabio Zeiser – student assistant
Prof. Dr. Gerald Kirchner
Prof. Dr. Götz Neuneck
Prof. Dr. Caren Hagner