Studies of Prompt Diagnostic Signatures of Nuclear Detonations with MeV Electron Beams

Dr. Dan Dale
Department of Physics, Nuclear and Electrical Engineering
Idaho State University

In the summer of 2015, the US government ran an exercise called Mighty Saber which simulated a nuclear detonation in an un-named US city on the eastern seaboard. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate and evaluate our post detonation nuclear forensics capabilities, and determine what type of bomb it was and who was responsible should such a terrorist act occur. Each type of weapon has a distinct fingerprint (including electromagnetic pulse, visible light, nuclear radiation, infrasound, pressure wave, and seismic waves). With the increasing possibility of such an event, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is currently in the process of deploying a series of sensors in several US cities, called Discreet Oculus, to exploit these signatures.

At the Idaho Accelerator Center, we are beginning a program to study a particular effect of a nuclear detonation called Teller light, which is a flash of ultraviolet fluorescence which occurs before the shock wave or fireball form. We intend to look at Teller light formation in complex environments such as would be found on a city street, and also study its propagation. We will explore what can be learned about a particular bomb’s design by this effect, and drawing on the navigational techniques of honey bees, develop methods to determine the distance to and direction of a nuclear detonation. In addition, we will perform scoping studies to see if we can replicate some radiofrequency signatures of a nuclear detonation with our accelerators.