Spies, Lies, and Nuclear Threats: Radiation Detection at Borders

R.T. Kouzes and J.H. Ely (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Countries around the world are deploying radiation detection instrumentation to interdict the illegal shipment of radioactive material crossing international borders at land, rail, air, and sea ports of entry. These efforts include deployments in the US and a number of European and Asian countries by governments and international agencies. Items of concern include radiation dispersal devices (RDD), nuclear warheads, and special nuclear material (SNM). Radiation portal monitors (RPMs) are used as the main screening tool for vehicles and cargo at borders, supplemented by handheld detectors, personal radiation detectors, and x-ray imaging systems. Some cargo contains naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that triggers "nuisance" alarms in RPMs at these border crossings. Individuals treated with medical radiopharmaceuticals also produce nuisance alarms and can produce cross-talk between adjacent lanes of a multi-lane deployment. The operational impact of nuisance alarms can be significant at border crossings. Methods have been developed for reducing this impact without negatively affecting the requirements for interdiction of radioactive materials of interest. Plastic scintillator material is commonly used in RPMs for the detection of gamma rays from radioactive material, primarily due to the efficiency per unit cost compared to other detection materials. The resolution and lack of full-energy peaks in the plastic scintillator material prohibits detailed spectroscopy. However, the limited spectroscopic information from plastic scintillator can be exploited to provide some discrimination. This presentation discusses experience with RPMs for interdiction of radioactive materials at borders. Results of observations of NORM and computations related to NORM characteristics will be discussed. Studies to consider the limitations of plastic scintillator versus NaI(Tl) for primary border screening applications will also be presented.

Presentation Slides 

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