The threat of nuclear weapons is a major concern for many countries around the world. In order to protect against the potential use of these weapons, it is important to understand the different ways of detecting them. There are a variety of methods available, including seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, air sampling, and satellite detection. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as different applications.
In 2003, the Department of Energy launched the Megaports Initiative as part of the Second Line of Defense program. This initiative involves equipping foreign seaports with equipment that can detect nuclear materials hidden in transport containers. This is an important step in preventing nuclear smuggling and ensuring that countries are not able to acquire nuclear weapons without detection. In a recent article in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, KEMP explored the promises and limits of detecting concealed nuclear weapons programs.
He noted that detecting plutonium production is easier than detecting enriched uranium production for several reasons. Advances in ultra-sensitive detection of certain chemicals could also allow for remote detection. In addition to the Megaports Initiative, authorities have also been eager to establish a second line of defense at border crossing stations in countries that were formerly within the Soviet Union (and in some other European and Mediterranean nations). Special equipment has been installed at these locations to detect attempts at nuclear smuggling.
Researchers have also been working on remote sensing techniques such as satellite instruments to detect uranium mining or chemical detectors to detect by-products of uranium processing. These methods could be used to detect a nuclear weapons program early on, before it succeeds in causing an explosion. Gamma rays can also be detected in the same way as those of nuclear emissions, but the resulting spectrum is not unique to the source.