Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Nuclear Engineering

Major Professor

Howard L. Hall

Committee Members

Lawrence H. Heilbronn, Robert M. Counce, Joseph R. Stainback

Abstract

Nuclear terrorism, one of the most critical threats to national security, exhibits complexities that do not exist with similar threats from sanctioned state actors. Responding to a domestic nuclear terrorism strike is difficult when the original source of the weapon may be unknown, given that terrorist organizations (at the time of writing) do not themselves have nuclear technology sufficient to design and build nuclear weapons. Consequently, the development of forensic techniques to help source and characterize nuclear weapons after detonation has recently become an area of interest. This relatively new field of science, known as post-detonation nuclear forensics, aims to ascertain weapon characteristics with both speed and precision while maintaining the highest level of accuracy achievable.

Weapon debris analysis employs chemical analytical techniques, among others, to obtain the technical information necessary for the attribution process. This work aims to reduce the time necessary for technical post-detonation forensic analysis by introducing gas-phase chemistry as an alternative to modern liquid-phase fission product separation techniques. This technique is intended to quantify and identify a certain class of fission products that appear in weapon debris in order to aid in weapon characterization. In particular, an organic ligand is attached to rare earth fission products to attempt separation of the products in the gas phase using isothermal chromatography. Successful, timely separation would contribute significantly to post-detonation forensic science, while even failed separations would contribute useful thermodynamic properties of these little-known complexes to the scientific community.

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