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The "nuclear car wash": a scanner to detect illicit special nuclear material in cargo containers

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11 Author(s)
D. R. Slaughter ; Lawrence Livermore Nat. Lab., CA, USA ; M. R. Accatino ; A. Bernstein ; A. D. Dougan
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There is an urgent need to improve the reliability of screening cargo containers for illicit nuclear material that may be hidden there for terrorist purposes. A screening system is described for the detection of fissionable material hidden in maritime cargo containers. The system makes use of a low-intensity neutron beam for producing fission and the detection of the abundant high-energy γ rays emitted in the β-decay of short-lived fission products and β-delayed neutrons. The abundance of the delayed γ rays is almost an order of magnitude larger than that of the delayed neutrons normally used to detect fission, and they are emitted on about the same time scale as the delayed neutrons, i.e., ∼1 min. The energy and temporal distributions of the delayed γ rays provide a unique signature of fission. Because of their high energy, these delayed γ rays penetrate low-Z cargoes much more readily than the delayed neutrons. Coupled with their higher abundance, the signal from the delayed γ rays escaping from the container is predicted to be as much as six decades more intense than the delayed neutron signal, depending upon the type and thickness of the intervening cargo. The γ rays are detected in a large array of scintillators located along the sides of the container as it is moved through them. Measurements have confirmed the signal strength in somewhat idealized experiments and have also identified one interference when 14.5-MeV neutrons from the D, T reaction are used for the interrogation. The interference can be removed easily by the appropriate choice of the neutron source.

Published in:

IEEE Sensors Journal  (Volume:5 ,  Issue: 4 )