Aracor has developed a system that uses X-rays to look for hidden nuclear materials.
The system they developed produces high-energy X-rays that can penetrate cargo containers and common shielding materials. If the X-rays hit uranium or plutonium they induce fission reactions, splitting their nuclei into smaller fragments. In the process, neutrons are emitted that can pass through shielding materials and be picked up by a neutron detector outside.
If this system becomes deployed at every point of entry into the United States and every single piece of cargo or vehicle is examined with it it still won't prevent nuclear bombs from being smuggled into the United States.
SUNNYVALE, CA – October 2002 – Advanced Research and Applications Corporation (ARACOR), a leading manufacturer of x-ray imaging systems, announces that it has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement ("CRADA") to develop and deploy technology that can detect special nuclear materials and nuclear weapons concealed within sea cargo containers or trucks. Under this CRADA, ARACOR will work with the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to optimize and deploy a new nuclear materials detection system.
"Presently, Customs inspectors are equipped with small radiation sensors ("radiation pagers") to detect the presence of special nuclear materials and radioactive isotopes. These sensors provide the first layer of defense against the nuclear materials threat," explained ARACOR’s President, Dr. R. A. Armistead. "However, to further enhance Custom’s capabilities for the interdiction of nuclear materials illicitly entering the U.S., we are using an active detection approach involving photoneutron and photofission reactions that can only be produced in fissile materials. If this new active nuclear detection technology is deployed on our Eagle® inspection system, it will be possible to automatically detect nuclear materials while routine x-ray inspections of the cargo are being conducted," Armistead added.
The Eagle is a self-contained mobile x-ray inspection system designed for inspecting cargo containers, vehicles and rail cars. This high-performance system provides a cargo penetration capability equivalent to 300 mm of steel and can form an image of a cargo container or truck in less than a minute.
Here's the problem in a nutshell: Detection systems have to succeed before the weapon reaches a high population density area. A ship has to come into a harbor and to be off-loaded in order for its cargo to be examined. Well, Ahmed the A-bomb Attacker is just going to install a remote control device or a GPS detected that will cause the nuclear bomb in some ship's cargo to go off once the ship reaches the harbor of some major US port city. That would allow them to blow up San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Boston, New Orleans and many other US cities. So I do not see how this detection system helps all that much.
A more clever attacker could develop a large long-range torpedo that could carry a nuclear bomb and then release it from a ship many miles off-shore with a guidance system that would deliver the bomb into a harbor before detonating. A similar approach would be to use a small surface boat that had an automatic guidance system that would keep it moving toward a port. The boat could even be made up to have a dummy at the helm so that the boat would appear to have a pilot. The boat could even use a camera feeding a video signal to a remote that had electronic means of controlling the boat.
It is extremely difficult to prevent a nuclear attack by a small group once that group gets a workable nuclear weapon. If a group has enough money and brains they can figure out any number of ways to delivering the weapon with a high probability of success.
Looking at likely technological trends for the next 30 or 40 years its hard to see how advances defensive systems can keep pace with the development of new ways to manufacture and deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology and other fields will make it feasible for people with less resources and skills to develop WMD. As a result,as technology advances smaller and smaller groups will be able to develop WMD. A steadily increasing number of people will be able to develop WMD. What must we to do to prevent terrorist attacks that kill tens or hundreds of millions?
The only detection system that would have a chance of stopping terrorist WMD weapons before they reach their targets would have to be absolutely monumental in scope. Ships would need to dock in automated ports in extremely low population density areas. Then their cargo could be unloaded and examined to check for WMD. All originating ports would need weapons detection systems and extensive video and other sensor systems to prevent WMD from being placed on ships headed outbound. All ships would need extensive monitoring systems on-board to prevent the addition of WMD while in transit. Major coastal population areas would require embedded passive sensor systems offshore and automated underwater, surface, airborne mobile platforms that did constant patrols looking for approaching ships and underwater craft.
Detection of WMD on approaching aircraft, ships, boats, and underwater craft is not an adequate method of defense. Another approach (and keep in mind I'm not advocating any approach; just trying to illustrate the scope of the effort required to defend against easily buildable WMD) would be to prevent WMD development by extensively monitoring the actions of every person on the planet. Once artificial intelligence is achieved this might be possible to do. Stationary and mobile monitoring of the scope required would generate so much sensor data that it could only be done if artificially intelligent computers were doing the work.
There's an even more radical approach possible for defense against WMD development by increasing numbers of governments and non-governmental organisations: genetically engineer the personalities of some or all of the human race to make them less dangerous. People could be made to be less hostile and angry or perhaps to be more empathetic and more kind and benevolent. That may well turn out to be the only approach that will work well enough to prevent catastrophic terrorism.
Technology is a way to do things. The tools of technology can be applied for good or ill. Each person must decide what to use technologies for. As technologies become more advanced the number of things that each person will be able to do will steadily increase. The problem is that technologies can more easily destroy than they can protect. Therefore, as technologies become more advanced the risk that even a very small number of hostile peope pose eventually becomes enormous. This is the biggest political problem that the human race faces in the 21st century.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 January 10 04:18 PM Dangers Tech General|