Detecting dirty bomb material with ESA gamma-ray technology

Oct 30, 2008
Detecting dirty bomb material with ESA gamma-ray technology
Russia, Moscow : Stationary customs Yantar system for control over fission and radioactive materials. Credits: AFP

Thanks to ESA and UK technology transfer support, a British company has developed a device based on the gamma-ray detection equipment used in ESA’s Integral astronomy satellite to detect and identify the radioactive material mixed with conventional explosives in ‘dirty bombs’.

ESA has supported the development of technology for gamma-ray astronomy for more than 40 years. Integral, ESA’s International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory launched in 2002, is now detecting some of the most energetic radiation to be found in space, such as that from gamma-ray bursts, supernovas and black holes in the Milky Way and distant galaxies at the edge of the observable Universe.

This same technology is now being used by the company to develop and commercialise radiation detection and identification technology. The company was formed in 2002 and with support from the UK technology transfer initiative and ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office it was put in contact with a world-leading provider of explosives trace and X-ray detection systems.

Most radioactive sources produce gamma rays of various energies and intensities. By detecting and analysing them, a gamma-energy spectrum can be produced – a kind of radiation fingerprint – to identify the substance and the quantity.

Portable detection device

In 2006, the companies’ partnership led to a contract from the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office of the US Department of Homeland Security for a next-generation radiation gamma-ray detection and identification system. The contract has a potential total value, including options, of US$222 million (€140 million).

The detection of illicit traffic in radioactive materials that could be used to make dirty bombs is a high priority for national security in the US.

Threatening nuclear materials must be identified from a range of natural radioactive materials such as clay tiles, ceramics and even bananas, as well as from a range of legally transported radioactive materials such as medical isotopes.

Effective screening devices are required for personnel and freight at ports and borders. The detection and identification of dangerous radioactive material has to be reliable and quick so as not to disrupt the normal flow of commerce.

The companies are developing a handheld and backpack Human Portable Radiation Detection System, tailored to meet these criteria. The device features space radiation detection hardware and signal processing software for use by emergency services, border patrol agents, customs and coast guard officers, and other law enforcement personnel.

The detectors can identify and determine the location of incoming radiation and also reliably discriminate between normally occurring radioactive material and potential threats.

Provided by ESA

Explore further: New tech aims to improve communication between dogs and humans

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientific instruments of Rosetta's Philae lander

Sep 23, 2014

When traveling to far off lands, one packs carefully. What you carry must be comprehensive but not so much that it is a burden. And once you arrive, you must be prepared to do something extraordinary to make ...

No Fukushima radiation found in coastal areas

Sep 03, 2014

It was raining when Eric Norman, Berkeley Lab physicist and University of California (UC) Berkeley professor of Nuclear Engineering, heard about the nuclear-reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. "I immediately ...

Scientists get set for simulated nuclear inspection

Sep 01, 2014

Some 40 scientists and technicians from around the world will descend on Jordan in November to take part in a simulated on-site inspection of a suspected nuclear test site on the banks of the Dead Sea.

Recommended for you

Study says upgrading infrastructure could reduce flood damage

Oct 29, 2014

The severe flooding that devastated a wide swath of Colorado last year might have been less destructive if the bridges, roads and other infrastructure had been upgraded or modernized, according to a new study from the University ...

Walk through buildings from your own device

Oct 29, 2014

Would you like to visit The Frick Collection art museum in New York City but can't find the time? No problem. You can take a 3-D virtual tour that will make you feel like you are there, thanks to Yasutaka ...

'Ambulance drone' prototype unveiled in Holland

Oct 28, 2014

A Dutch-based student on Tuesday unveiled a prototype of an "ambulance drone", a flying defibrillator able to reach heart attack victims within precious life-saving minutes.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2008
how do they do it?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.