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Seeing Inside Fukushima

October 31, 2012

Cosmic rays called muons could help detect uranium in damaged Japanese nuclear reactors.



Illuminating a nuclear reactor…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In March of 2011, a tsunami led to nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Cleanup – which exposes workers to dangerous radioactive materials – could last 30 years. But researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory say cosmic rays could give scientists a look inside the damaged reactors. Physicist Konstantin Borozdin says when cosmic rays called muons pass through metals like uranium, they scatter in a predictable way. This creates a detailed image of the material, similar to an x-ray.

KONSTANTIN BOROZDIN (Los Alamos National Laboratory):

We can look through it and can see this fuel inside the building.


He says being able to pinpoint the location of the uranium could cut ten years off of Fukushima’s cleanup time. He adds that the method is also being used to scan for nuclear contraband. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant before the March 2011 tsunami. (Kawamoto Takuo/Flickr)