LANL in talks to help at Fukushima nuclear disaster site

Created: 06/18/2014 11:56 AM
By: Elizabeth Reed,

The Toshiba Corporation in Japan is in talks with the Los Alamos National Laboratory about using a technique to speed the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

LANL says the technique, called "muon tomography," would use cosmic rays to safely peer inside the cores of the reactors and create high-resolution images of the damaged nuclear material inside without ever breaching the cores themselves.

In 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused a meltdown at the power plant.

"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, LANL's chief technology officer, in a statement. "Invasive techniques such as video endoscopy or introduction of robots run the risk of releasing radiation."

If the partnership goes through, Los Alamos will assist Toshiba in developing a muon tracker for use at the Fukushima plant.

"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," McBranch said.

Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoctoral researcher Elena Guardincerri, right, and undergraduate research assistant Shelby Fellows prepare a lead hemisphere inside a muon tomography machine, which can peer inside closed containers and provide detailed
Photo: LANL

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