The efforts of Chile and the US to strengthen surveillance of nuclear explosions

Let’s consider two scenarios: on the one hand, we have the International Surveillance System (SIV) which, through monitoring stations with various technologies, located in different points worldwide, is responsible for ensuring the verification of nuclear tests; and, on the other hand, we have radioactive emissions from peaceful sources emitted during the operation of a research reactor or the production of isotopes for nuclear medicine, among other applications. Now the question is, how are these two scenarios related?

Well, it happens that the emissions produced by these latter facilities can interfere with the detection systems of the monitoring stations, given that they can detect emissions similar to those of a nuclear test. And, precisely, this is the topic of discussion and the challenge faced by the nearly one hundred experts, from 17 countries around the world, who met from December 4 to 7, 2023, in Santiago de Chile, at the framework of the 9th Workshop on Signatures of Man-Made Isotope Production (WOSMIP, for its acronym in English).

In that context, and as part of his work for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the United States Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization and The Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CCHEN) joined forces to organize this new meeting – its ninth version – which brought together experts from all over the world to discuss ways to differentiate between different emissions and promote, as a common purpose, safety of people and the environment.

Ted Bowyer, manager of the nuclear explosion monitoring program at PNNL, “this workshop sought to study the scientific aspects related to emissions from peaceful sources that may affect our nuclear explosion detection techniques. We celebrate the collaboration of CCHEN and many international organizations related to this type of research. During three days of meetings we discussed physical, chemical and engineering problems that will help us discover new ways to do better threat modeling for the entire world.”

Lori Metz, senior radiochemist at PNNL, confirmed that “previous versions of WOSMIP have been very successful, because they are a unique opportunity for producers of both medical isotopes and other man-made isotopes to work alongside experts. in nuclear explosion detection, so that they can learn and collaborate with each other to make this world a safer place for health and monitoring. Therefore, WOSMIP IX is also very important for both communities to continue working together, strengthening the ties of friendship that have been forged over the years and enriching the discussions. “We need to continue to understand the different sources of radioxenon in the atmosphere, to understand how we can use that information to reduce the impact on nuclear explosion monitoring.”

Workshop in Chile 

The opening day, which took place on Tuesday, December 5, 2023, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Santiago, brought together national authorities, led by the Undersecretary of Energy, Luis Felipe Ramos Barrera; the Executive Director of the CCHEN, Luis Huerta Torchio; the President of the Board of Directors of the CCHEN, Julio Maturana França; and the Director of the Human and International Security Division (DISIN) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ignacio Llanos Mardones.

The opening words were given by the Energy authority, Luis Felipe Ramos, who stressed that “Chile is proud to be part of this initiative that brings together nearly one hundred professionals dedicated to deepening the understanding of the traces left by isotopes. Our country’s participation in this event is crucial to advance in fundamental areas such as nuclear control, environmental surveillance and non-proliferation. This exchange of knowledge not only strengthens our commitment to scientific research and development, but also contributes to positioning Chile as a relevant actor in the international arena.”

Immediately afterwards, Luis Huerta Torchio emphasized that “our commitment as a public institution is to expand our capabilities and explore new avenues for the peaceful uses of nuclear sciences, emphasizing the safety of operation and facilities. Host WOSMIP and supervise our installation of isotope production are ways in which Chile demonstrates its commitment, both to the safe use of nuclear technology and to non-proliferation.

The WOSMIP agenda combined a wide variety of topics related to production, sources and emissions, background and supervision, under various dynamic formats, which sought to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences, dialogue and debate. Hence, this meeting space offered exhibitions, spaces for discussion and exchange, along with poster sessions, which enriched the meeting and the consensus of ideas between the experts who gave life to the ninth version of this forum.

It is worth remembering that the first day of WOSMIP in Chile began with a visit, by the participants of the event, to the facilities of the La Reina Nuclear Studies Center of the CCHEN, where, on the one hand, there was time to visit the RECH-1 reactor, the cyclotron and the Nuclear Research Laboratory; and on the other hand, share with the officials of the Commission, in a space that was created especially to encourage networking. See more.

As is traditional in each Workshop, an award is given for the best poster and the best presentation. Thus, the Woster Award (WOSMIP + poster) went to Sri Sundari Retnoasih, representative of the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia, with her poster that addressed the “Estimation of radioxenon release trajectories based on the recent development of the molten salt reactor “. Meanwhile, the Wozzie Award, referring to the best speaker, went to Andrew Petts, from EDF Energy of the United Kingdom, who spoke about “XENAH: Current situation, results and challenges.”

It should be noted that, among the 20 posters presented at the event, one of them corresponded to the one prepared jointly by Dr. Ana Valdés Durán, geologist and researcher at the Center for Nuclear Technologies in Vulnerable Ecosystems (CTNEV) of the CCHEN, and Christopher Celis Huaiquilaf, analyst at the CCHEN National Data Center and also a geologist. Their work focused on “Potential studies of radioactive elements in soils and sediments of Chile.”

“After finishing this 9th version of WOSMIP, I can say that this workshop has been a complete success, since it has been the meeting point for experts who have been able to witness various presentations, all very varied and interesting, and more importantly, who have contributed with their contributions, from their different perspectives, to this great challenge that is ultimately, strengthening the surveillance of nuclear explosions, with the purpose of guaranteeing the safety of people and the environment. WOSMIP ends, but the commitment continues, and that leads us to continue working towards this great objective that unites us.” concluded Paola García Peña, counterpart of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty since the CCHEN.