MONITORING FOR NUCLEAR MATERIALS
Screening for nuclear materials is a developing arena critical to our nation’s protection against weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
For example, the Miniature Integrated Nuclear Detection System (MINDS) is a software-based, Homeland security/Homeland defense system that continually monitors the environment for the presence of X-ray, gamma and neutron emitting radionuclides. It has such low level detection capabilities that it can identify one-billionth of the material deemed plausible to create a dirty bomb, says says Timothy Teen, CEO of InSitech Inc., Cheshire, Conn.
MINDS is presently configured with a sodium iodide sensor, but being software-based and featuring an open architecture, it is sensor agnostic. It could operate with slight modification, with any type of radiological sensor technology. It is a plug-and-use solution that can be added to existing security protocols such as: X-ray equipment used to scan luggage and parcels; stanchions to scan trucks, cargo containers or cargo ships; portals used to detect chemical, biological and explosives on individuals; at the choke point in tunnels, bridges, toll booths and any critical infrastructure; and mobile applications in the transportation, public safety, first responder and law enforcement sectors.
The MINDS software is designed to interpret the spectra and alarm when the presence of a subject radionuclide is detected, thereby minimizing the need for decision-making at the point of detection.
The product was created by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and funded over the past three years with investment from the U.S. Army’s Armament Research and Development Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, Morris County, N.J.
In another development related to detecting WMDs, Varian Medical Systems, Palo Alto, Calif., has developed an X-ray linear accelerator that will enable cargo-screening systems to automatically alert operators if suspicious materials are detected. The Varian Linatron K9 accelerator will enable cargo screening systems to scan containers and analyze images to determine the nature of the contents.
“This technology has the capacity to take us beyond what you can conventionally see with X-rays, making it possible to identify special nuclear materials as well as view container contents,” says Lester Boeh, vice president for Varian’s Security and Inspection Products business.
The Linatron K9 is a dual-energy accelerator that emits X-rays in a pattern that alternates between two energy levels — more than 400 times per second. By analyzing the X-rays that emerge when a cargo container is scanned, systems can generate information about high-density objects and nuclear materials in cargo containers.
“The high-energy X-rays can penetrate 17 inches of steel to generate high-resolution images,” Boeh says.
SAIC Inc., San Diego, is developing the first cargo screening system with this device to be released by the end of this year.
Although high-energy X-ray screening technology for cargo inspection has not been widely deployed in the United States, many countries around the world have adopted this approach, primarily for manifest verification and revenue enhancement. The Linatron K9 cargo screening technology could significantly improve security in the United States, where some 8 million-cargo containers enter the country annually through over 360 seaports, the supplier says.