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I read a proposal (by real particle physicists) for a steerable neutrino beam source that could feasably destroy nuclear weapons anywhere on the planet from a single location here.

I believe the principle was based on a the greater interaction cross section of the produced neutrinos with unstable nuclei. Such a beam would be able to travel straight through the earth to any desired location. I believe the source was based on a muon storage ring, the decay of which produced the neutrinos.

Any advances or papers related to this that anyone knows of?

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    $\begingroup$ If nothing else, the original proposal for this scheme would be interesting to see. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Can someone explain the close-votes for engineering? $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:10
  • $\begingroup$ heather: Concerning tag edit: It seems the specific-reference tag does not apply, cf. its tag wiki. cc @DavidZ $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Qmechanic - I think it does, the tag blurb says "a short, non-open-ended list of references" which I think this question fits into. $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 13:28

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It is a 2003 proposal.

By scattering neutrons in uranium or plutonium, a sufficiently high-powered beam of neutrinos would destabilise a nuclear bomb. According to Hiroyuki Hagura and Toshiya Sanami at Japan’s KEK High Energy Accelerator Research Organization and Hirotaka Sugawara at the University of Hawaii this would cause the weapon to “melt down” without triggering the chain reaction needed for it to fully detonate.

But the “muon storage ring” generator needed to propose the neutrino beam would need to be 1000 kilometres wide. It would also require 50 gigaWatts of power to operate – the same as used by the entire UK – and would cost an estimated $100 billion to construct.

This could only happen in a very empty region, the Sahara desert or some such.How can such a ring be guarded and kept secret in a populated area? Even if feasible, it makes sense for using against a rogue state (some come to mind) by the UN community.

Weber says the first stage of a generator might be feasible within 10 to 20 years, but he reckons the main problem is that the neutrino beam produced would be just a few metres wide. This means a target would need to be very precisely located beforehand. He adds that the beam would produce dangerous alpha and neutron radiation in any living thing in its path.

And here is the original proposal

We discuss the possibility of utilizing the ultra-high energy neutrino beam (about 1000 TeV) to detect and destroy the nuclear bombs wherever they are and whoever possess them.

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Our basic idea is to use an extremely high energy neutrino bea m which penetrates the earth and interacts just a few meters away from a potentially concealed nuclear weapon. The appropriate energy turns out to be about 1000 TeV. This is the energy where the neutrino mean free path becomes approximately equal to the diameter o f the earth. The neutrino beam produces a hadron shower and the shower hits the plutoni um or the uranium in the bomb and causes fission reactions. These reactions will heat up the bomb and either melt it down or ignite the nuclear reactions if the explosives alrea dy surround the plutonium. We will calculate the intensity of the neutrino beam required a nd the duration of time which the whole process will take place for a given intensity

The authors are aware it is a futuristic proposal.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, There doesn't appear to be any more recent writing on this, and your answer perfectly answers the original question (it has been edited by others to not actually be quite the same question for example, I hadn't read the proposal as it states). Also $100billion is just a fraction of the US defense budget, seems worthy of further study if the technology becomes easier. $\endgroup$
    – R. Rankin
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 5:31
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Not a resource suggestion, but the reason why I doubt that you'll find one and much too long for a comment.


While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea it bumps into two practical issues.

  1. The beam intensity needed is prohibitive.

    Right now even performing a neutrino oscillation experiment with a 5000 km baseline requires a beam an order of magnitude more powerful than the most power beam currently funded (and not yet in operation), and a fuel conversion beam would have to be more powerful still.

  2. A beam strong enough to do the job would have a measurable effect on other material objects in the beams path—objects like people. And given that neutrino beams have significant opening angle you can't prevent them from affecting people if you have a long range.

    None of the countries (Canada, Italy, and Japan at a minimum and soon the US) that currently host the emergence points of powerful beams care because the beam doesn't create a measurable dose, but a beam powerful enough to degrade nuclear explosive would do exactly that and the receiving country would presumable (and reasonably) interpret this as an attack on their population.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you I appreciate the answer, as far as your second point goes, couldn't that be avoided (or at least minimized) by utilizing several beams of less intensity which converge at a point. I get that the first point is still valid here though $\endgroup$
    – R. Rankin
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ Bombs are mostly kept near the surface (where we judge that by the radial scale of beams at the target location, so the beams all emerge at nearly (same scale) the same spot. Neutrino detectors often go in deep, but that is to protect them from cosmic rays and bombs are rarely stored that deep. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ the proposal claims the beam diameter could be made (granted with ridiculously stong magnets) on the order of ~1m at the target location, the collateral damage though seems maybe not worth it? $\endgroup$
    – R. Rankin
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ It's the combination of the unreasonable proposed energy and the use of a muon storage ring (which allows beam cooling) that generates the beam focus. And the high energy reduces the intensity demand to some degree. But of course the proposal is very speculative, indeed. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 19:58

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