Detection

  • Chemical weaponsStrong evidence that Syrian government used chemicals in attacks on three cities

    Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in Northern Syria in mid-April 2014, Human Rights Watch said earlier this week. These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013. The Syrian government is the only party to the conflict with helicopters and other aircraft.

  • Mine detectionDolphins, sea lions help Navy detect sea mines, underwater intruders

    For decades, the Pentagon has been training dolphins and sea lions to help detect underwater mines and intruding divers near U.S. military bases and along the paths of U.S. and allied ships in foreign locations. The first dolphin trained in mine detection was Notty in 1960. In San Diego, the U.S. Navy spends roughly $28 million a year to train and maintain about ninety dolphins and fifty California sea lions.In the future, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) may replace the marine mammals in the mine-detection mission, but for now they share the assignment.

  • Nuclear risksCritics: PG&E downplays quake risk to Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

    Since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was opened by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1985, geologists have discovered three fault lines nearby, which could threaten the plant. The three faults are capable of quakes even stronger than the one which ravaged the Napa Valley last year, and critics of PG&E say the company has been minimizing the risks the three faults pose. The company rejects the criticism. The critics are now suing to company to force it to reapply for an operating license – with the information about the three faults included in the application.

  • Nuclear wasteScientists develop deep borehole disposal (DBD) method to deal with nuclear waste

    Technologies which will enable nuclear waste to be sealed five kilometers below the Earth’s surface could provide a safer, cheaper and more viable alternative for disposing of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste. Scientists calculate that all of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes five kilometers deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch. The concept — called deep borehole disposal — has been developed primarily in the United Kingdom, but is likely to see its first field trials in the United States next year.

  • Infrastructure protectionVirtual guard detects real-time leaks in water, oil-, or gas pipes

    Often, water, gas, or oil distribution networks suffer from leaks in storage tanks, pumping failures, or illegal tapping. In order to prevent losses which typically result, researchers designed a virtual guard which immediately detects abnormalities in any type of duct. Through the laws of physics and application of a mathematical model of fluid mechanics, the device calculates when an irregularity occurs on site, and issues an alert.

  • Food safetyFood safety specialists hope new tracking approach will lead to better intervention

    Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year. A new partnership to improve food safety and better track foodborne illness is an approach that food safety specialists say will lead to better intervention strategies.

  • ExplosivesThe National Explosives Task Force keeps a watchful eye on IEDs

    The National Explosives Task Force (NETF) is a multi-agency assemblage of bomb technicians, analysts, and professional staff formed in 2011 quickly to analyze and disseminate intelligence related to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosive materials in the United States. It includes personnel from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The NETF’s main functions include gathering and analyzing intelligence on explosives, integrating the intel into investigations (to disrupt plots, for example), and pushing information out to partners — which include more than 3,100 public safety bomb technicians on more than 400 bomb squads around the country.

  • Food safetyNew detection method for bacterial toxin

    The Bacillus cereus bacterium is one of the potential causes of food poisoning. A recent study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry shows that this versatile pathogen produces nineteen different variants of a poison that causes nausea and vomiting in human beings. This variety could explain why some cases are relatively benign and others can result in death. Across Europe, the number of food poisoning cases caused by the Bacillus species is on the rise.

  • Nuclear forensicsImproving plutonium identification

    Researchers have developed a new kind of sensor that can be used to investigate the telltale isotopic composition of plutonium samples — a critical measurement for nuclear non-proliferation efforts and related forensics, as well as environmental monitoring, medical assays, and industrial safety. The novel device, based on “transition edge” sensor technology developed at NIST, is capable of ten times better resolution than all but the most expensive and time-consuming of current methods, and reduces the time needed for sample analysis from several days to one day.

  • Perimeter protectionSensor cable monitors fences—and can even detect low-level drones

    Fenced-in areas, such as airports, nuclear power stations, industrial sites, or private plots of land, can now be monitored thanks to novel sensor technology that has been developed by a team of experimental physicists. The sensors respond immediately as soon as someone tries to climb over or cut through the fence, providing information on the precise location of the security breach.

  • African securitySouth Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium

    In the 1980s, White minority-ruled South Africa built six nuclear bombs. In 1990s the F. W. de Klerk government began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. As part of the transition, the country’s nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure, were dismantled under IAEA supervision. TheWhite-minority regime and, since 1994, the democratically elected South African government, have both held to, and refused to give up, the 485 pounds of weapon-grade nuclear fuel – some of it extracted from the dismantled weapons and some of it already produced but not yet put in warheads. Despite pressure by successive U.S. administrations, South Africa says it is determined to keep its weapon-grade nuclear fuel.

  • ForensicsFrench experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • Chemical weaponsMetal-organic framework quickly destroys toxic nerve agents

    First used 100 years ago during the First World War, deadly chemical weapons continue to be a challenge to combat. Scientists have developed a robust new material, inspired by biological catalysts, which is extraordinarily effective at destroying toxic nerve agents that are a threat around the globe. The material, a zirconium-based metal-organic framework (MOF), degrades in minutes one of the most toxic chemical agents known to mankind: Soman (GD), a more toxic relative of sarin. Computer simulations show the MOF should be effective against other easy-to-make agents, such as VX.

  • Radiation risksProtecting crops from radiation-contaminated soil

    Almost four years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, farmland remains contaminated with higher-than-natural levels of radiocesium in some regions of Japan, with cesium-134 and cesium-137 being the most troublesome because of the slow rate at which they decay. In a just-published study, scientists have identified a chemical compound that prevents plants from taking up cesium, thus protecting them — and us — from its harmful effects.

  • DetectionUsing sound waves to spot cracks in pipes, aircraft engines, and nuclear power plants

    Researchers have developed a system for using sound waves to spot potentially dangerous cracks in pipes, aircraft engines, and nuclear power plants. The system is a model for a form of non-destructive testing (NDT), which uses high-frequency mechanical waves to inspect structure parts, and ensure they operate reliably, without compromising their integrity. It will be developed further and could potentially also have applications in medical imaging and seismology.