Nuclear Computational Science: A Century in Review

Nuclear Computational Science
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Fission and fusion processes produce energy without producing greenhouse gases and components of acidic rain, such as sulfur—matters that are also of concern to society. Ultimately, this is an issue for public policy, and in the meantime it is important for the nation to preserve its options.

Computational Science

Several major new developments, described below, are concerned with improving reactor safety and the handling of waste; some of these will be tested during the next decade. Many of these developments draw on technologies and expertise that were developed as part of basic nuclear research programs. One option for handling nuclear waste is to transmute the long-lived radioactive wastes from light-water reactors the main reactor type into shorter-lived isotopes that can be dealt with more easily.

It has been proposed that intense high-energy proton beams could be used for this purpose; such transmutation machines have been studied at Los Alamos National Laboratory, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and in Europe. In one proposed process, proton beams would strike a high-power target and produce copious streams of energetic neutrons that would transmute the bulk of the radioactive waste material into short-lived nuclei. The goal is to reduce waste lifetimes to less than years.

Estimates indicate that with a further storage period of only 30 years, these products would have a level of radioactivity less than that of the original unused uranium fuel. The accelerator-waste combination would be operated at a subcritical level—it could not by itself sustain a chain reaction—so that no reactor-core meltdown accident could occur. In another proposed scheme, the PHENIX Project, uranium and most of the plutonium would be separated prior to proton irradiation and used again for reactor fuel. The most important long-lived components of the remaining waste are isotopes of neptunium, americium, curium, and iodine, some with half-lives of 10, years or more.

According to one estimate, a machine operating at 3, million watts of thermal power could process these waste isotopes for 75 light-water reactors.

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It has been suggested that this concept might be carried one step farther, and a particle beam might be used to produce additional neutrons directly in a nuclear-reactor-like core. Versions of this concept have been studied at Los Alamos and by a European group. The core would be sub-critical, and the accelerator beams would provide sufficient additional neutrons to run the reactor. Because the neutrons would have high energy, an abundant and less enriched element, such as natural thorium, could serve as the fuel.

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Such a sub-critical configuration is. A design study concluded that a 1-GeV, 0. The thorium fuel would not require enrichment, but it would need to be recharged every 5 years.

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Nuclear fusion provides an alternative approach to producing clean and abundant power. In this process light nuclei such as deuterium and tritium fuse into helium, a process by which the Sun and other stars produce their energy. The fuel supply for fusion, the deuterium in the oceans, is extremely large, and fusion produces no long-lived radioactivity. Since the s, most studies have used magnetic fields to confine the plasma of interacting nuclei. Another technology, inertial confinement fusion, was proposed more recently: capsules of frozen deuterium and tritium D-T would be spherically compressed to several thousand times their normal density by powerful beams of lasers, or of light or heavy ions.

Much has been learned about capsule fabrication and compression using powerful laser beams, and the National Ignition Facility, authorized for construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has the goal of using lasers to heat D-T capsules to ignition.

In the longer run, intense heavy-ion beams may offer a more practical solution. Nuclear laboratories have much experience with the production and use of heavy-ion beams; their expertise would be important in the development of such powerful heavy-ion machines. Nuclear science plays a critical role in national security. It is a matter of national policy that the maintenance of an effective nuclear stockpile continues to be important with the end of nuclear testing.

Related to this issue are concerns regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the acquisition of such weapons by terrorist groups. With the end of the Cold War and cessation of nuclear weapons testing, there is a new emphasis on stewardship of the existing nuclear stockpile that is science based rather than test based. It involves intensive computer simulations to replace underground explosions; these simulations rely heavily upon detailed understanding of the relevant nuclear physics processes and parameters. The simulations must model the explosion of the warhead and also follow the explosion products to determine where and how the energy of the explosion is.

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As a result, many reaction probabilities—for charged particles, x rays, gamma rays, and neutrons—as well as the nature of the beta-decay products of fission fragments, are needed to fully simulate the performance of a nuclear weapon. Many of these reaction probabilities and decay properties are known from measurements, but others must be calculated from an understanding of how nuclei behave.

This requires a deep understanding of nuclear structure and reactions. Stockpile stewardship also has an important experimental component. Radiographic techniques that can image warheads without opening them and that can measure the dynamics of nonnuclear explosions will play an important role.

Proton radiography is a sharp departure from the flash x-ray technology that has been the predominant radiographic tool in the past. It draws on the skills and techniques of nuclear physicists. The protons are created by an accelerator, transmitted using magnetic lenses, pass through the object under study, and are detected, all using techniques developed for studies in basic nuclear physics. Among the advantages high-energy protons bring to radiography are their penetrating power, well matched to the imaging of dense objects, and their sensitivity to both material density and composition.

One can obtain multiple snapshots of dynamical processes such as chemical explosions, including stereoscopic views. A proton radiographic image of the shock front formed in a chemical explosion is shown in Figure 8. This test demonstrates some of the basic concepts of proton radiography. A new experiment now under evaluation at Brookhaven National Laboratory will extend static measurements to higher energy, as required for radiography of thick objects. Eventually a proton accelerator in the 50 GeV range will be required.

Still another issue related to maintenance of the nuclear stockpile is the production of tritium, a heavy form of hydrogen. Tritium is an essential ingredient of thermonuclear weapons, but it decays with a half-life of 12 years and must be continuously replenished. One possibility for production of tritium is to use an accelerator to provide a megawatt proton beam and drive a spallation source. Such a facility could provide the required time-averaged neutron flux. The safety, flexibility, cost, and logistics may prove more attractive than the alternative of constructing a large nuclear reactor.

The large accumulated quantity of nuclear material and secondary waste products poses a significant challenge. Such materials are used as fuel in nuclear reactors, but some can also be used in nuclear weapons.

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In the sequence of exposures, at 0. In those states with nuclear weapons, the material must be monitored and accounted for. Techniques developed for nuclear physics research form the backbone of safeguards technologies. Gamma-ray detectors are used to assay the amount and isotopic composition of uranium or plutonium in a sample of material. Neutrons from fission are detected and independently determine the content of Pu in a sample. New techniques to enhance sensitivity include tomographic gamma scanning, analogous to medical imaging, and use of neutron sources composed of.

Education of the next generation of technically sophisticated citizens and the training of scientists who can contribute to society have high priority in the nuclear physics community. The unique assets of the research enterprise, particularly in nuclear physics, provide a superb infrastructure to address this priority. Education of graduate students in nuclear physics is essential for the continuing health of the field, and for maintaining a technically sophisticated workforce with expertise in the many aspects of advanced technology and instrumentation that training in nuclear physics entails.

Nuclear physics has a long tradition of producing broadly educated and flexible scientists. Their skills are readily applied to a wide range of the nation's technological problems, in business, industry, government, and medicine. Students in nuclear experiment and theory have the opportunity to face and solve complex problems at the frontiers of knowledge. Their graduate training involves state-of-the-art instrumentation and knowledge from different fields, many outside of nuclear physics. As an experimentalist, a student commonly designs, builds, and tests hardware using advanced materials, vacuum technology, control technology, and complex electronics and semiconductor devices, and becomes expert at the electronic and computer technology in data acquisition and analysis.

Both theoretical and experimental projects often involve the design and implementation of complex computer programs and some of the most advanced computer hardware. In many cases, students have responsibility for all aspects of their projects and thus acquire a broad range of skills in addition to the ability to attack a particular problem in depth. Students often interact with scientists from different institutions and different countries that may contribute detectors or other components to an experiment; they learn teamwork and management and communication skills in addition to acquiring new technical knowledge and expertise.

The field of nuclear physics continues to attract high-quality young people.

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At present, DOE and NSF are supporting about graduate students in nuclear physics with perhaps one-third that number supported by other funds. This influx of talent advances the intellectual and technical forefront, and it makes nuclear physics an important source of technical manpower.

As an example, the rather complete records of three university-based nuclear physics accelerator laboratories show the career paths of nuclear physics Ph. Employment of Ph. They are probably similar to those of the field as a whole. These records, summarized in Figure 8.

NERSC Mission

The field of medical physics has long been a special and important application of nuclear physics and is displayed separately for this reason; most of these positions are in industry. All the categories of permanent positions shown in Figure 8. This variety is not a recent phenomenon but has been characteristic of graduates in nuclear science for decades. The nature of career prospects for young scientists is of considerable interest both within the scientific community and beyond. The decrease in funding for basic research and for the support of long-term research in industry has eroded a major sector of the traditional base of job opportunities for Ph.

Statistics from studies by the American Institute of Physics indicate that the employment situation for physicists is now improving and that there has been a decrease in the number of first-year graduate students that will lead to a significant decrease in Ph. It appears that the entering generation of graduate students will have much-improved job opportunities. In the particular.

Career Paths for Graduates of Bachelor's in Computer Science Programs

For up to 10 years of decommissioning, about people are employed annually, or around 5 labour years. Because of their influential and seminal works , these scholars are actually the most quoted authors in econophysics. Retrieved August 5, Raney, J. This report draws on recent experience of NEA member countries in nuclear site remediation during decommissioning in order to identify strategic considerations for the sustainable remediation of subsurface contamination — predominantly contaminated soil and groundwater — to describe good practice, and to make recommendations for further research and development.

A number of surveys of people active in basic research in nuclear science have been carried out over the past 20 years, some based on questionnaires sent to essentially all funded researchers, and others on statistics provided by the funding agencies. Taken at face value these surveys indicate that the number of nuclear scientists may have increased since —the largest increase is 18 percent in DOE-supported graduate students. But, because of their different methodologies, one cannot be certain that the different surveys are measuring the same quantities, and indeed, some of the results seem inconsistent.

A significant overall phenomenon is the drop in the number of senior physics majors and beginning graduate students in all fields of physics. There were 26 percent fewer first-year graduate students in than in the recent peak year, This will inevitably lead to a drop in the number of physics Ph.