New Age X-Ray Machine Can Detect Small Quantities Of Nuclear Material And Help Prevent Illegal Trafficking

By Shweta Iyer on April 15, 2014 1:36 PM EDT

x ray
A research team has come up with a special algorithm, which when coupled with conventional, commercially available spectral X-ray detectors can improve the detection of uranium and plutonium. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

A major concern for national and international security agencies all over the world is to safeguarding nuclear material and preventing it from falling into the wrong hands. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the possibility of terrorist organizations using nuclear weapons by acquiring critical quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to construct a crude nuclear explosive device, is the greatest threat to nuclear security. The IAEA also states that illegal trafficking of small quantities of nuclear material is highly possible since they are difficult to detect.

Like Us on Facebook

But now a joint research team from the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), has come up with a special algorithm, which when coupled with conventional, commercially available spectral X-ray detectors can improve the detection of uranium and plutonium in small, layered objects such as baggage. This method with its superior X-ray imaging can be used effectively to detect and prevent illegal transport of nuclear materials, according to a press release Tuesday.

UT's Mark Deinert, one of the authors on the paper said, "We first had to develop a computational model for how X-rays move through materials and how they are detected so that we could predict what an image will look like once the radiation passed through an object. With that in hand, we applied an 'inverse algorithm,' varying the composition of the object until the predicted image matched the measured one. We also gave our algorithm additional details about density and other factors-a process called 'regularization'- to adaptively enhance its ability to discriminate materials."

The new system is a modification of X-ray techniques that were used for medical purposes, specifically distinguishing between bone and iodine contrast agent in X-ray images.

"We wanted to show that spectrally sensitive detectors can be used to discriminate plutonium and other high-atomic-number elements from multiple layers of other materials using a single-view radiograph," said Andrew Gilbert, the lead author on the paper and a doctoral student of Deinert's working at PNNL. "In simulated radiographs, we were able to detect the presence of plutonium with a mass resolution per unit area of at least 0.07 gram/centimeter squared; in other words, we can locate a sample of plutonium with a thickness of only 0.036 millimeters."

After having successfully created an algorithm to detect nuclear materials in small quantities, the team is now focussing on developing this technique for nuclear detection on a larger scale. "We plan to apply the algorithm to high energy X-ray systems that could be used for verification of arms-reduction treaties," Deinert said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
INSIDE iScience Times
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet  Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)