March 19, 2003
Los Alamos Develops Muon Nuclear Weapons Detector

Cosmic subatomic particles called muons strike the Earth continuously. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have demonstrated that the scattering of muons thru different types of materials can be used to detect smuggled nuclear weapons.

The high-energy particles, called muons, scatter in a highly predictable pattern when they strike dense materials like uranium or the lead used in heavy shielding, and that scattering could be picked up by a special detector, the scientists said.

Unlike X-rays muons can penetrate dense objects and produce 3 dimensional images.

In contrast, muons are highly penetrating - a typical cosmic-ray muon can pass through more than 10 metres of water - and could be used to produce radiographic images of medium-to-large objects in a short exposure time.

Bill Priedhorsky of LANL says the muon detectors are pretty simple to build.

The muon detectors are little more than "extruded aluminium, stainless steel wires and argon gas" and the device needs no radiation source. Furthermore, unlike the X-ray and gamma-ray scanners, there is no health risk associated with the radiation dose.

Konstantin Borodzin of LANL says this method will be useful for examining large objects.

"This method shows promise as an inexpensive, harmless probe for medium to large objects, such as commercial trucks, passenger cars or sea containers, using only the natural flux of muons," Borozdin said.

As the technologies needed to develop nuclear weapons spread more widely there is an increasing need to detect attempts by terrorists to smuggle radiological and nuclear weapons.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 March 19 01:29 PM  Dangers Tech General

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