To help solve the problem of identifying smuggled special nuclear material (SNM), researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in California say a neutron scatter camera under development may be able to detect radiation from much greater distances and through more shielding than current detection instruments.
According to Sandia physicist Nick Mascarenhas, the camera can count neutrons from a source of SNM and localize it - meaning it doesnÃt only indicate there is radiation present, but also where it is emanating from and, under some circumstances, how much. "There are neutrons all over the place from cosmic radiation, even when you are sitting indoors," explains Mascarenhas. "Our instrument can measure the energies, rates and angular variation. This is important in understanding standard operating conditions. You can't really detect anomalies until you understand what's normal."
The biggest obstacle to the camera becoming widely adopted is the liquid scintillator, which is flammable, hazardous, and requires special handling. According to Mascarenhas, materials exist that could be used as a solid scintillator, but they need to be mass produced and made readily available in the U.S. for this purpose. Solid scintillator material, he says, is not in the scope of the current project but a logical next step.