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Sending Neutrino Beams Through The Earth Could Find And Destroy Nuclear Weapons

If this worked, bombs would be destroyed from a distance without anyone knowing what was happening.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

Edited by Maddy Chapman

Maddy is a Editor and Writer at IFLScience, with a degree in biochemistry from the University of York.

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A firework.

The idea is to cause a smaller "fizzle explosion".

Image credit: somsak nitimongkolchai/shutterstock.com

Since the creation of nuclear weapons, we have lived in a world where an all-out war could destroy humanity many times over. Studies have found that just 100 or so warheads could plunge the world into nuclear winter, which could claim up to 1 billion lives. As of 2023, we have an approximated 12,500 nuclear warheads.

But what if there was a way to find these weapons and destroy them, from a distance, without anyone knowing what's happening? 

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That is the futuristic scenario painted by a pre-print paper titled, quite dramatically, "Destruction of Nuclear Bombs Using Ultra-High Energy Neutrino Beam".

"Our basic idea is to use an extremely high energy neutrino beam which penetrates the earth and interacts just a few meters away from a potentially concealed nuclear weapon," the team explains in their paper, which is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

"The appropriate energy turns out to be about 1,000 TeV. This is the energy where the neutrino mean free path becomes approximately equal to the diameter of the earth. The neutrino beam produces a hadron shower and the shower hits the plutonium 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 already surround the plutonium."

The beam would be used to cause a controlled "fizzle explosion". At the time of writing – back in 2003 – the team believed they could cause a controlled explosion around 3 percent of the weapon's strength, but that would need to be reduced in order to disarm the bombs safely. Too much energy could lead to a full explosion, which is what we are trying to avoid.

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While destroying nuclear bombs is a cool idea, we would also need to be able to locate them. The team believes that a neutrino beam using less energy in conjunction with detectors could be used to detect nuclear bombs, making the problem a lot easier. The team proposed that neutrinos could be used to study the internal structures of the Earth, much in the same way as we use seismic tomography but without the hassle of waiting around for earthquakes.

So, what would the downsides to such a tech be? An obvious one, acknowledged in the paper, is that the weapon's use would not be limited to nuclear weapons.

"We are certainly aware of the fact that this kind of device can not only target the nuclear bombs," they write, "but other kinds of weapons of mass destruction and also, unfortunately, any kind of living object including human."

The team believed that the radiation dosage would be low enough that it would not be practical to target people, or a group of people, in this way. Moreover the technology – still out of our current grasp – would be so cost-prohibitive that it would need multiple countries to collaborate in building it.

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"We strongly object to the ungrounded worry that this kind of device, even its downgraded version could be used by certain irresponsible organization as a weapon of mass destruction," the team concluded. "On the contrary, we sincerely hope that our proposal will motivate and stimulate the revival of the old idea of 'World Government' which has so far been discarded as unrealistic."

The paper is published on pre-print server arXiv.


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