Examination of natural background sources of radioactive noble gases with CTBT significance

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Johnson, Christine Michelle

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For verifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), different monitoring technologies (seismic, infrasound, hydroacoustic, and radionuclide detection) are combined. The monitoring of radioactive xenon isotopes is one of the principal methods for the determination of the nuclear nature of an explosion. After an underground nuclear detonation the radioxenon isotopes [superscript 131m]Xe, [superscript 133m]Xe, ¹³³Xe, and ¹³⁵Xe, and the radioargon isotope ³⁷Ar have an increased probability of detection. In order to effectively utilize these isotopes as indicators of nuclear testing, an accurate background must be calculated. This work examines the fission products produced by spontaneous fission of ²³⁸U, which is naturally present in the earth's crust, and of ²⁴⁰Pu which is present as a product of nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor accidents. These calculations provide a range of production values for radioxenon in a variety of geologies as well as at various historic locations. The activation of geologic calcium and potassium by cosmic ray neutrons is considered for a variety of properties effecting the neutron flux. These calculations provide a range of radioargon production values across a selection of geologies. The impact of latitude and the solar activity cycle are also examined. In order to examine the transport of the isotopes through soil a model of the transport of xenon and argon through various geologies was developed. This model incorporates both the introduction of xenon from the atmosphere and that produced by spontaneous fission. This is then considered in light of what might be observed in an on-site inspection (OSI). What this work finds is that the radioxenon natural background does exceed detection limits in particular locations and geologies, however, a careful examination of the location and the ideal sampling depths can minimize the impact during an OSI. Radioargon, however, has a much larger natural background at shallow depths which are the realm of OSI sampling. Should radioargon sampling be used in an OSI the sampling time is crucial in distinguishing a nuclear explosion from the natural background. In some scenarios the natural background production of radioargon may be sufficient to interfere with the detection of an underground nuclear weapon test. This information may be beneficial in the development of future OSI noble gas monitoring techniques.



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