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Sensitive detection method may help impede illicit nuclear trafficking
Date:7/10/2014

WASHINGTON D.C., April 15, 2014 -- According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the greatest danger to nuclear security comes from terrorists acquiring sufficient quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to construct a crude nuclear explosive device. The IAEA also notes that most cases of illicit nuclear trafficking have involved gram-level quantities, which can be challenging to detect with most inspection methods.

According to a new study appearing this week in the Journal of Applied Physics, coupling commercially available spectral X-ray detectors with a specialized algorithm can improve the detection of uranium and plutonium in small, layered objects such as baggage. This approach enhances the detection powers of X-ray imaging and may provide a new tool to impede nuclear trafficking.

The study was conducted by a joint research team from the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

"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," said UT's Mark Deinert, one of the authors on the paper. "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 factorsa process called 'regularization' to adaptively enhance its ability to discriminate materials."

The new system, Deinert said, expands upon techniques originally developed for medical applications such as discerning between bone and iodine contrast agent in an X-ray image. "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-v
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Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
jbardi@aip.org
240-535-4954
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert  

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