Detection

  • Nuclear cloak & daggerRussian secret agents implicated in nuclear poisoning of a critic of Putin

    Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident and a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, died in London on 23 November 2006 after suffering from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning. An inquest has established that on 1 November 2006 he ingested large quantities of the radioactive material, surreptitiously put in his tea by two agents of the Russian Federal Protective Services. A nuclear expert testifying at the inquest said that less than a millionth of a gram of polonium would be enough to kill a human being.

  • Nuclear security U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation victim of growing bilateral tensions

    One of the greatest benefits brought about by the end of the cold war was the agreement been the United States and the former Soviet republics to cooperate closely in securing the large, and not-always-well-protected, Soviet nuclear stocks. The 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, aka the Nunn-Lugar program after the two former senators — Sam Nunn [D-Georgia] and Richard Lugar [R-Indiana]) — who persuaded fellow lawmakers to fund it, has facilitated to achievement of important security measures: dismantling of thousands of nuclear warheads, securing facilities in Russia where weapon-grade material is stored, and finding suitable jobs for tens of thousands of Russian nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians. More than two decades of cooperation in guarding weapons-grade stockpiles have now come to an end, the result of tensions over Russia’s role in Ukraine. Experts say the end of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation leaves the world “a more dangerous place.”

  • Radiation detectionRealistic radiation detection training without using radioactive materials

    Training of first responders on the hazards of actual radiological and nuclear threats has been challenged by the difficulties of adequately representing those threats. Training against such threats would involve using hazardous, highly radioactive materials, experiencing actual radiation doses in training, or require the distribution of radioactive material over a large geographical area. To avoid these issues in exercises to train responders, surrogate radioactive materials have been used, but these materials do not completely represent real threats due to their non-hazardous size and inability to be geographically distributed. Researchers have solved the problem by developing a new technology that provides realistic radiation detection training by directly injecting simulated radiation signals into the analog amplifier of the real detectors used by first responders and inspectors.

  • First responseMobile app helps first responders choose the right biodetection technology

    First responders have downloaded more than 10,000 copies of a guide to commercially available, hand-portable biodetection technologies created to help them determine what they might be up against in the field. Since many first responders do not always have immediate access to a computer, a mobile version of the guide is now available for cell phones and tablets. An updated version of the guide has just been released to help response organizations make informed decisions when procuring the right technology for their particular needs and circumstances.

  • LandminesDeadly debris: Northwestern U students report on U.S. landmine legacy

    Despite a 20-year cleanup effort, the explosive remnants of war left behind by the United States after sustained military campaigns around the world continue to kill and maim thousands of people in Cambodia, Iraq, and other countries. Since 1993 the United States has spent $3.2 billion on efforts to clear unexploded ordnance, assist victims, and wipe out aging munitions stockpiles, but civilians are still dying and the “deadly debris” is inflicting incalculable damage on communities, regions, and entire countries.

  • Butt bombsBuilding better butt bombs: Al Qaeda’s instructions to followers

    Five years after using a “bum bomb” for the first time – on 28 August 2009, against the Saudi deputy interior minister – al Qaeda bomb makers are at it again. Having actively searched for new and better ways to take advantage of privacy (“don’t touch my junk”) considerations which govern airport security checks, one of the organization’s bomb makers goes public. The latest issue of Inspire, the organization’s English-language magazine, contains a detailed 22-page article on how to construct a butt bomb and conceal it in one’s anal cavity. The article alsoadvises would-be suicide bombers on where to sit on the airplane to ensure the most destruction, and also recommends using the hidden bomb for assassination attempts.

  • Nuclear facilitiesStudying cancer risks near nuclear facilities

    The National Academy of Sciences has issues a brief report which provides an expert committee’s advice about general methodological considerations for carrying out a pilot study of cancer risks near seven nuclear facilities in the United States. The pilot study will assess the feasibility of two approaches that could be used in a nationwide study to analyze cancer risk near nuclear facilities regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

  • Nuclear safetyIf South Korea’s nuclear plant staff are vulnerable, then so are the reactors

    By Alan Woodward

    Does it matter that a South Korean nuclear plant was hacked and plans of the complex stolen? As it is South Korea that’s the subject of this latest attack, everyone tends to assume it must have had something to do with North Korea. With a target as sensitive as a nuclear power plant, not unreasonably people are asking if safety could be compromised by a cyberattack. Could hackers cause the next Chernobyl or Three Mile Island? This points to an important and infrequently discussed problem, the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure. Cyber-attacks like these are a great way of levelling the playing field: why invest in massively expensive nuclear weapons program if you can simply shut down your enemies’ power, gas, water, and transportation systems? Increasingly more and more infrastructure is connected to the Internet, with all the security risks that entails.

  • Nuclear safetyOne million curies of radioactive material safely recovered

    Experts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) helped the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP) recover more than one million curies of radioactive sources since 1999. LANL says that the accomplishment represents a major milestone in protecting our nation and the world from material that could be used in “dirty bombs” by terrorists. “Taking disused, unwanted and, in limited cases, abandoned nuclear materials out of harm’s reach supports the Laboratory’s mission of reducing global nuclear danger,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for global security at Los Alamos.

  • Nuclear powerIndustry: Multiple redundant and back-up systems make nuclear plants safer than ever

    Nuclear plants receive what supporters of nuclear power regard as an unfair amount of scrutiny and concern for their safety, but industry experts say that plant equipment and plant operations are highly regulated to minimize risks.All U.S. nuclear plants are now storing emergency pumps, generators, battery banks, chargers, compressors, and hoses at off-site locations near the plants to protect against floods, industry insiders say.Working in a nuclear plant is much safer than working in a paper mill or a chemical plant, according to Jim Krafty, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resident senior inspector at the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.

  • Chemical agentsTurning deadly chemical warfare agents into harmless soil

    Destroying chemical warfare agents in bulk is a challenge for the military and international community. Current methods of eradication, such as incineration or hydrolysis, create toxic waste which requires further processing. The logistics required to transport large stockpiles from storage to a disposal site can be risky and expensive. DARPA is seeking portable system that turns stockpiles of chemical warfare agents into dirt or other safe organic compounds without generating hazardous waste.

  • Radiation risksU.S. Army seeking to end environmental testing at Indiana nuclear firing range

    The U.S. Army wants to end its Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license at the Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana. The Army’s appeal comes after years of water and soil testing at the site. Currently, an estimated 162,040 pounds of depleted uranium projectiles and shows are still on the firing range. The site was last used in 1995. Uranium munitions, specifically the kind used to penetrate armor during Operation Desert Shield, were used there throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

  • DetectionThe science of airport bomb detection: chromatography

    By Martin Boland

    As the holidays draw near, many of us will hop on a plane to visit friends and family — or just get away from it all. Some will be subjected to a swab at the airport to test clothes and baggage for explosives. So how does this process work? The answer is chromatography — a branch of separation chemistry — along with mass spectrometry. Although instrumental chromatography is a mature technology (the first instruments were produced just after WWII), new applications frequently pop up. Some are a matter of scale. Pharmaceutical companies that produce monoclonal antibodies (often used in cancer treatments) make use of capture chromatography to purify their products. On an industrial scale these can be tens of centimeters in diameter and meters in length (typical lab scale systems are a few millimeters diameter and 5-30cm long). Other uses can either be in a specific new application, such as detecting cocaine on bank notes using the gas chromatography systems often seen at airports as bomb and drug detectors.

  • ForensicsNIST study argues for RFID forensic evidence management

    Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags— have become increasingly popular for tracking everything from automobiles being manufactured on an assembly line to zoo animals in transit to their new homes. Now, thanks to a new NIST report, the next beneficiaries of RFID technology may soon be law enforcement agencies responsible for the management of forensic evidence. The release notes that the practical question that agencies must consider is whether RFID technology can produce measurable benefits and a positive return on the funds invested in a new system. The NIST report estimates that RFID systems can pay back their initial set-up cost in about two years.

  • Nuclear plant safetyImproving nuclear power plant safety by looking at nature

    Within the nuclear industry, hazardous salt solutions can arise within industrial containment vessels. The salt solution precipitates out, forming structures with strange morphologies that bear a resemblance to stalagmites. If left unchecked, they could build up and cause a problem in the nuclear containment chamber. Currently, these containment chambers are checked regularly to prevent this from happening. Taking inspiration from nature, researchers have created a versatile model to predict how stalagmite-like structures form in nuclear processing plants — as well as how lime scale builds up in kettles.