Neutrino physics for Korean diplomacy

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Science  09 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6415, pp. 649-650
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav8136

Continued diplomatic progress with North Korea will be a journey of many steps, as A. Glaser and Z. Mian describe in their Policy Forum “Denuclearizing North Korea: A verified, phased approach” (7 September, p. 981). Leaders in North Korea, South Korea, and the United States agree that one step could be dismantlement or civilian repurposing of the nuclear reactors at Yongbyon. We propose a cooperative method for verifying reactor shutdown or conversion. The key tools are meter-scale, field-deployable detectors that track neutrino emissions from reactor cores.

Neutrino detectors can track power levels and fuel evolution in nuclear reactors, as experiments in South Korea, China, Russia, the United States, and Europe have demonstrated (17). At Yongbyon, neutrino detectors could be deployed to verify reactor shutdown or civilian operations without the need for operational records or access inside reactor buildings. Shutdown of North Korea's main plutonium production reactor could be verified with a detector in a standard freight container parked outside the reactor building.

Existing neutrino technology may be attractive to all parties in the ongoing talks. North Korea may value a tool for demonstrating treaty compliance while maintaining custody of the reactor buildings. Other parties may value the tamper resistance of the neutrino signal and resilience of neutrino detectors, which require minimal on-site access and can reconstruct reactor operational history even after a data-taking pause. Neutrino projects are also a natural opportunity to strengthen relations between North and South Korea and to build international scientific ties. South Korea has an active neutrino community and could choose to deploy a counterpart to a Yongbyon-based detector at one of its own reactors. Resulting scientific collaboration could benefit Korea and the world. We encourage policy-makers to consider neutrino detectors as one step toward stability and security on the Korean Peninsula.


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