LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been three years since a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, crippling the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Workers there are still trying to figure out how to clean up the mess.
That is where New Mexico comes into play.
“This is a major humanitarian crisis,” said Matt Durham, a post-doctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Lab.
“Many people were displaced because of this,” said LANL researcher Elena Guardincerri.
The tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.
About 5,900 miles away in New Mexico, LANL researchers were working on technology they now believe may show Japanese nuclear power plant workers exactly how bad the failed reactors are on the inside.
“They are much too radioactive to go in and look at things,” said Christopher Morris, the lead researcher on the project.
The LANL device instead sends particles called muons through the damaged reactor cores.
When the muons pass through things that could make up a nuclear threat, like lead, plutonium or uranium, they scatter.
LANL software turns that motion into a 3D image of what things look like on the inside, so plant workers can better prepare for the cleanup.
“They plan to clean this reactor for something on the order of 40 years, and they’re going to have to build special machines and robots to pick the fuel out and put it away, dispose of it in some sensible fashion,” Morris said.
Los Alamos researchers are working with Toshiba as it creates detectors like LANL’s but on a much larger scale, making them the size of billboards.
LANL hopes the detectors will be used in about a year to inspect the first reactor in Japan.
LANL started developing this technology after 9/11 to prevent nuclear threats. The U.S. has used it to scan incoming cargo for radioactive materials.