New technology allows detection of nuclear materials from a mile away

Published 14 March 2011

New detection technology would allow illicit nuclear material to be detected from up to a mile away; the technology, developed by the Idaho National Laboratory, will help protect the United States against the smuggling of nuclear materials into the country; field tests will begin this summer

The Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho has been cleared to begin testing air- and ground-operated devices intended eventually to detect nuclear materials and explosives being smuggled into the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy earlier last week gave INL scientists and engineers the OK to begin experimenting after issuing a finding that the testing would cause no significant environmental impact.

Department spokesman Tim Jackson told the Post Register that preparation of the testing site at the 890-square-mile nuclear reservation will likely start as soon as the snow melts, and that testing will begin this summer.

Officials said the technology could allow illicit nuclear material to be detected from up to a mile away.

The Columbus (Indiana) Republic reports that experts said the testing involves high-energy linear accelerator-based systems. Such systems are used by many hospitals to produce medical X-rays. Scientists at the INL hope to adapt the technology to cause nuclear material to emit a “signature” that can be detected at a distance.

The tests involve placing radioactive materials at the site and then using sensing tools to detect them, Jackson said.

He said safeguards have been built into the testing to prevent accidental exposure to workers involved in the testing, as well as employees at nearby labs.

For more than 20 years, INL has been at the forefront of threat materials and detection research,” Jackson said.