Developing a New Method to Confirm the Absence or Presence of Nuclear Weapons & Fissile Materials

Research Paper Title

A physical unclonable neutron sensor for nuclear arms control inspections.


Classical sensor security relies on cryptographic algorithms executed on trusted hardware.

This approach has significant shortcomings, however. Hardware can be manipulated, including below transistor level, and cryptographic keys are at risk of extraction attacks. A further weakness is that sensor media themselves are assumed to be trusted, and any authentication and encryption is done ex situ and a posteriori.

Here the researchers propose and demonstrate a different approach to sensor security that does not rely on classical cryptography and trusted electronics. They designed passive sensor media that inherently produce secure and trustworthy data, and whose honest and non-malicious nature can be easily established.

As a proof-of-concept, they manufactured and characterised the properties of non-electronic, physical unclonable, optically complex media sensitive to neutrons for use in a high-security scenario: the inspection of a military facility to confirm the absence or presence of nuclear weapons and fissile materials.


Philippe, S. & d’Errico, F. (2020) A physical unclonable neutron sensor for nuclear arms control inspections. Scientific Reports. 10(1), pp.20605. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-77459-3.


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