Toshiba, Los Alamos Partner to Remotely and Safely See Inside Nuclear Reactors

June 18, 2014
Initiative Could Reduce Clean-Up Time by a Decade, Limit Plant Employees' Radiation Exposure

Toshiba and Los Alamos National Laboratory will team up to use a special technique to safely view inside Japanese reactors damaged in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The initiative should significantly reduce radiation exposure to plant personnel and plant clean-up.

The technique, called Muon tomography (also called cosmic-ray radiography) is similar to X-ray technology, except muons are produced naturally and do not damage the materials they contact. Muon tomography has been used previously to map the Great Pyramid at Giza's interior, however, the muon tomography technique tha tLos Alamos will use on the Fukushima Daichi, Japan reactors is more advanced than previous versions.

"One of the most challenging, time-consuming and potentially dangerous tasks in cleaning up after a reactor accident is determining the condition and location of the core material, especially when the material itself may have melted and flowed to a different part of the building," said Duncan McBranch, Los Alamos’s Chief Technology Officer. Invasive techniques such as video endoscopy or introduction of robots run the risk of releasing radiation. Furthermore, those techniques at best offer a partial view of material location. Muon tomography will enable plant operators to see the location of the nuclear material inside, determine its condition, and provide crucial insight that can inform the design of a safer and faster cleanup. We are hopeful that our partnership with Toshiba will assist the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government in their efforts to accelerate cleanup operations in the safest way possible.”

"Los Alamos researchers began working on an improved method for muon radiography within weeks of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima reactor complex,” said Christopher Morris, chief scientist and leader of the Los Alamos Muon Tomography Team. "Within 18 months we had refined our technique and published a paper showing that the Los Alamos method was superior to traditional muon radiography techniques for remotely locating and identifying nuclear materials, and that it could be employed for field use.”

As part of the partnership, Los Alamos will assist Toshiba in developing a Muon Tracker for use at the Fukushima plant.