Cosmic rays might offer Japan much needed aid in nuclear power plant cleanup
News On Japan via physicscentral.com -- Oct 19
Researchers suggest that cosmic-rays, once used to scour the pyramids of Egypt and search beneath active volcanoes, could expose new information about the damaged reactors.
Scientists on a special team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have demonstrated that a well-established imaging method called cosmic-ray radiography could be used to take pictures of the damaged reactor, measuring the quantity and location of the melted radioactive fuel and explosion debris.
Cosmic-rays consist of outer-space particles that slam into the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions cause a cascade of lighter particles that decay into a resilient particle called the muon. Muons can travel for miles through air and are constantly showering the surface of the Earth. In fact, thousands of muons have passed through you since you started reading (they're basically harmless). But here's the clincher: muons lose energy and shift direction as the density, depth, and kind of matter they pass through changes.
Using special detectors, scientists can detect these shifts in the muon's path and back-out the different materials through which each muon traveled. In the new research, the team from Los Alamos National Laboratory compared two types of muon detection and identified a method, called muon scattering, that can detect the location and the amount of the radioactive core in the reactor complex.
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