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New Neutron Scatter Camera to Detect Smuggled Nukes

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the size-matters dept.

Science 125

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in California are developing a new neutron scatter camera that they claim will be able to detect radiation through much more shielding and at much greater distances than traditional tech. "The neutron scatter camera consists of elements containing proton-rich liquid scintillators in two planes. As neutrons travel through the scintillator, they bounce off protons like billiard balls. This is where "scatter" comes into play -- with interactions in each plane of detector elements, the instrument can determine the direction of the radioactive source from which the neutron came. [...] Computers record data from the neutron scatter camera, and using kinematics, determine the energy of the incoming neutron and its direction. Pulse shape discrimination is employed to distinguish between neutrons and gamma rays."

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Ahh more justifications for fusion research (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482575)

This is part of the problem with working under government contracts on projects and interests that are ultimately unrelated - you always have to justify the research. I worked in this department at Sandia for a few summers, and that was generally the opinion I heard. Everyone there is interested in fusion research to provide cheap power to the world, but they have to do this research under the auspices of supporting national security or nuclear stockpile stewardship. Everyone working there knows that that's not the actual reason for the research, but it keeps the funds flowing in.

To clarify (2, Interesting)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482647)

To clarify, this neutron camera is nice for nukes, but what they're actually using the technology for is to examine neutron emissions from fusion capsules compressed with their z-pinch machine.

Re:To clarify (1)

smilindog2000 (907665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485475)

I could be totally wrong about this, but I think this camera only detects radioactive material that is near critical mass. The instrument would send out a pulse of neutrons at cargo entering the country, and wait for an echo. If there is any bomb-grade uranium in near-critical concentrations, the neutron pulse should trigger a lot of reactions, which hopefully this camera would detect. I suspect it's still hard to detect the material, unless it's really close to critical, but I really don't know.

Here's a funny story I heard about this technology. Since NAFTA, we import all kinds of things from Mexico. A truck carrying rebar set off a detector. Apparently, somewhere in Mexico, there's a uranium rich iron-ore mine (or a clever Mexican with a new way to dispose of radioactive waste). We asked them to stop shipping radioactive rebar to the US.

EXCEPT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482783)


the nukes smuggled by Bush [whitehouse.org] to Pakistan.

Re:Ahh more justifications for fusion research (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483095)

I really think you should really look at this: Google search. [google.com]

Re:Ahh more justifications for fusion research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483739)

the irony is that fusion research does support national security

Expected outcome (3, Interesting)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482593)

1. DoD contractor produces a prototype, then obtains a $100M grant from the DoD to pursue it further.
2. DoD contractor requests $50M for additional research and receives it
3. DoD contractor delivers the detector as a proprietary black box, running Windows, at a price of $10M each. 50 units are ordered by the government.
4. 5 CalTech students make a working detector for $20'000 out of an old scintillation counter, plumbing pipe, and a PentiumIII machine running BSD.
5. Nobody cares.

I wish nobody cared (2, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482785)

I wish nobody cared, but this will only fuel the masses into thinking "wow... all this money spent on high-tech, super sci-fi counteterorism stuff is making me safer."

Don't get me wrong being able to detect a nuke is a good thing. However, to me this seems to fit right in along with the whole security theater schtick that the government is pulling. Throw out some nifty vaporware. Have some conveniently thwarted plots and you have a carte blanche to do whatever you want with personal liberty.

Without getting into an argument over the actual probability (well over-blown if you ask me) of a terrorist attack occurring, being nuked is the least of my fears. Something that utilizes few resources, like say hijacking a plane, is much more likely to be the plan of attack. The government throws out all these crazy, high-concept plots just to proliferate fear.

I know I'm off-topic for this specific device, but I feel that the whole counterterorism deal is what's behind this. As another post pointed out, it's what is driving research funding, and that makes me just a little uncomfortable.

Re:I wish nobody cared (5, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482849)

Don't get me wrong being able to detect a nuke is a good thing. However, to me this seems to fit right in along with the whole security theater schtick that the government is pulling. Throw out some nifty vaporware. Have some conveniently thwarted plots and you have a carte blanche to do whatever you want with personal liberty.


Well, the whole point of having devices like this, is that, if you can directly detect somebody trying to smuggle in a nuke or even a backpack bomb, you don't need to spy on the whole country because you are afraid someone might.

Advances such as these should be trumpeted, as much as possible, to indicate that we don't need to have our civil liberties trampled in order to defend ourselves. That is, defending against terrorism is something for grad students to work on with big defense grants, not, a bunch of jackasses that want to play rent-a-cop at the CIA.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483157)

Advances such as these should be trumpeted, as much as possible, to indicate that we don't need to have our civil liberties trampled in order to defend ourselves. That is, defending against terrorism is something for grad students to work on with big defense grants, not, a bunch of jackasses that want to play rent-a-cop at the CIA.

Well put, and I agree. However that's not the connection that is going to be made. Due to whatever reason, the general public will only see this as the government hard at work on protecting us. Successes like this lend credibility to the administration across the board. Not that this should be sabotaged or it's a bad thing entirely, it's just I don't think the consequences for civil liberty are going to be positive.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483899)

Due to whatever reason, the general public will only see this as the government hard at work on protecting us. Successes like this lend credibility to the administration across the board

See, I don't think that at all. I think people will be like, geez, why do I have to do all of this search crap, when all ya need to do is buy a scanner. Really, the RADAR gun used by police to catch speeders is the appropriate metaphor.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

KudyardRipling (1063612) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484761)

Somehow there must be more money to be made in methods more corrosive to personal liberty than in tools like these. If it be not the money, then it becomes a pure political (read: human nature in practice) issue whereby the obscenely wealthy few rule as $DEITY over the less fortunate many.

Human depravity is the most controversial religious doctrine precisely because it is the most empirically provable.

Not the point of this research (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483199)

"Well, the whole point of having devices like this, is that, if you can directly detect somebody trying to smuggle in a nuke or even a backpack bomb..."

That is actually not the point of devices like this. The point of this device is to keep the federal funds flowing to Sandia researchers. This is because the researchers are interested in fusion research to provide cheap power to the world, but the government has always only cared about nukes and national security. So researchers are occasionally forced to invent things like this to justify their continued funding. The research being done at Sandia follows the global fusion research, and so the researchers have to continually develop new justifications to the government.

In reality this technology is used to analyze neutron emissions from fusion capsules imploded with their z-pinch machine.

Re:I wish nobody cared (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21484521)

Question: When was the last time anybody *actually* smuggled or even constructed a dirty bomb? Exactly. Just sounds like more "duct tape and bottled water" ignorant hysteria if you ask me. I'm all for being proactive, but let's tackle *real* problems that can be solved.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

6Yankee (597075) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484559)

if you can directly detect somebody trying to smuggle in a nuke or even a backpack bomb, you don't need to spy on the whole country because you are afraid someone might.

But surely we still need to spy on the whole country, so we know when the Bad Guys have learned to get nukes past our nuke detectors?

Although, the big mushroom cloud in the parking lot might clue us in.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

ZDRuX (1010435) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485167)

Well, the whole point of having devices like this, is that, if you can directly detect somebody trying to smuggle in a nuke or even a backpack bomb, you don't need to spy on the whole country because you are afraid someone might.


Riiiiight... because once they have this in place, they`ll stop spying on your phone calls right? I mean.. thats what it's for isn't it.. if no nukes/bombs can get into the country then we don't need to spy on our citizens because nobody has bombs right?!.. No ofcourse it's wrong, the Orweillian state will such continue growing uncontrollably, no matter what "breakthrough" they have and no matter how safe they tell you everything is, it's just never enough. Humans are too dumb to take care of themselves nowawadays I guess, so they have to be spied on to keep them safe.

Re:I wish nobody cared (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483751)

Amen to that. This is an expensive boondoggle and misses the point. Why smuggle a bomb INTO a country when you can hijack a plane and use that as a weapon. Or a semi truck tanker. Or a train load of ammonia. It isn't WHAT people have, its the weakness inherent in our transportation systems.
Stop looking FOR stuff and start looking at what the stuff travels on and in.

Re:I wish nobody cared (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484243)

I wish nobody cared, but this will only fuel the masses into thinking "wow... all this money spent on high-tech, super sci-fi counteterorism stuff is making me safer."

And it isn't... How?
 
 

I know I'm off-topic

This, accompanied with "clueless" and "tinfoil hat" pretty much sums up your whole reply. Increasingly when I read comments on security - as soon as I see the buzzword[s] "security theatre" tossed out, it's prima facie evidence that the writer thereof has no fucking clue what he is talking about. Your post is just further proof of that.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482791)

You've got the order backwards:

1. 5 engineering students and one professor make a working prototype for under $20k
2. DoD contractor requests $50m to productize the research
3. 2 grad students (part of the original 5) improve the design as a product funded (Maybe $100k) by aformentioned DoD contractor
4. The university and contractor get a co-patent
5. The DoD contractor sells the $10k units for $10m to the US government. The university gets a 10% cut. The grad students get a $375/month student loan bill over 30 years.
6. The congressman for the district the DoD contractor is based in gets re-elected.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485185)

Grad students that do research get a "free ride" on tuition from the uni in most cases, and even a small stipend.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485751)

That's true for many grad students... Not all grad students though. Usually they have to teach, or the like to get a deal like that, and few schools can offer it to all their grad students.

Regardless, most of those students still have loans from their undergrad study which have been accruing interest while they were deferring payment to get their graduate degree.

Incidentally, in recent times those interest rates have been high, since congress has funded all of their higher education affordability initiatives by cutting subsidies on student loans for people who have already graduated.

Re:Expected outcome (1, Troll)

nasor (690345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482897)

Okay, let's see here...strokes kill about 150000 people each year in the U.S., and the government spends about $400 million on stroke research. Terrorists with radioactive materials have killed approximately zero people ever, and the government spends $650 million+ on (admittedly clever) directional radiation detectors. Yeah, we're clearly doing a great job of rationally allocating our money.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

frusengladje (990955) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483119)

Yes, but consider how many people could be killed by a nuclear weapon being exploded in a major metropolitan area. Also, when people die of strokes, they tend not to do massive damage to surrounding infrastructure.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486207)

Why was the immediate parent marked 0, Troll?

Hell, we attribute some things to "Mother Nature" and live with it. We don't call Her a "bitch", or "asshole", or such. Why not see Terrorists as reactionary cells (cancerous, whatever....) to other cells (white, whatever...)? When the cell count in the body goes out of the norm (being set by evolution, environment, local exposure...), white cells attack the "undesired" or rogue (rogue until THEY take over...) cells and attempt to snuff them out.

We all have brains, and MOST of us KNOW how to PREVENT problems, but alas, greed and selfishness, arrogance and pride, vengeance and indifference just keep entropy in play....

We wouldn't NEED these neutron devices if some minority of strings pullers would stop alienating minority, but dangerous opposition. (Minority could apply to the Terrorists OR to the masses-to-industrialists number...)

Re:Expected outcome (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483139)

Okay, let's see here...strokes kill about 150000 people each year in the U.S., and the government spends about $400 million on stroke research. Terrorists with radioactive materials have killed approximately zero people ever, and the government spends $650 million+ on (admittedly clever) directional radiation detectors. Yeah, we're clearly doing a great job of rationally allocating our money.

using your logic:
100% of our security budget should go towards death prevention since 100% of people will die at some point.
Zero people died in plane hijackings last year, so we should eliminate airport security altogether.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

Torvaun (1040898) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483465)

Given that we don't have airport security now, I could get behind spending a little less money on it.

Re:Expected outcome (0, Troll)

nasor (690345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483513)

No, according to my logic if zero people died in plane hijackings last year but tens of thousands of people died due to X, we should probably be spending more money fighting X than we spend on preventing plane hijackings. I thought about writing out a long post about rationally fighting threats according to how dangerous they are, but judging by your post I doubt that you would be able to understand it.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483825)

No, according to my logic if zero people died in plane hijackings last year but tens of thousands of people died due to X, we should probably be spending more money fighting X than we spend on preventing plane hijackings. I thought about writing out a long post about rationally fighting threats according to how dangerous they are, but judging by your post I doubt that you would be able to understand it.

Now, now. No point in dropping to the level of personal attacks.

Now back to your logic. That is a tired argument. I could have listed several other examples to explain things better, but thought it would be a waste of time since you seemed rather intelligent. Now I see I'll need a few more examples.

Zero people died from nuclear plant accidents. We should cut funding on nuclear safety. Same goes for nuclear weapon security.
No country has invaded America since the 1860's. We should cut military funding.
No one has died from Internet threats. We should cut funding for Internet security.
Zero deaths from global warming.
Zero deaths from airline crashes.
Zero deaths from the plague.
Zero deaths from small pox.
Zero deaths from mad cow disease.
Zero deaths from space born objects (cut NASA's funding).
and the list goes on.

More people have died from kitchen accidents and falling down stairs than all of these listed above combined. Should we move all NASA and nuclear regulatory commission funding into funding kitchen safety and stair railings?

Maybe you should consider the idea that all this money we are spending on fighting terrorism is working.

Re:Expected outcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21484223)

Actually someone in the US did die recently from the plague. And there were several fatal plane crashes, just not large ones. Not to be too pedantic, but most of your examples are incorrect, even if there were not much more than zero examples for some. But your point about funding still stands.

posting anon due to too much pedantic-ness...

Re:Expected outcome (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485379)

That logic is pretty badly flawed. By your logic, my pet rock protects against tigers because I haven't been attacked by a tiger today. There are no hard numbers that suggest that the risk of terrorism has decreased; terrorist attacks are so infrequent (at least on U.S. soil) that measurement using statistics is not particularly practical. If we were looking at something common like murder rates, that's a different story... and all those things that you gave as counterexamples are things for which the risks are highly measurable, unlike terrorism risk, which really isn't.

A rational approach to risk management is to multiply the number of deaths that would result from a particular threat by a realistic assessment of the probability of that threat ever occurring. The probability of a nuclear attack by terrorists is effectively zero, so the number of deaths basically cancels out. The number of deaths possible from terrorists taking over an airplane is typically in the hundreds (there aren't very many buildings as populous as the WTC), and the probability is small, but nonzero. Improving this can make some improvement in risk, but it still isn't a great use of resources. We can't really calculate the probability of a terrorist attack occurring, but even if we could and the probability were as ludicrously high as one attack a year, it still would be a poor use of resources.

More to the point, even if 100% of the planes in the air at any given time on a single day were simultaneously destroyed with all hands lost, you would only be talking about roughly 5000 planes. If we limit this to commercial (non-cargo, non-military, non-charter) flights, you're down to somewhere on the order of 1627 planes, give or take. At an average of probably 120 people per flight (guessing here), a complete decimation of all the commercial airline flights in the air over the U.S. would still kill only a fraction of the number of people who die of the flu each year (about 200,000 for terrorism's maximum practical threat compared with 500k-1 million for flu annually). And influenza pales compared with more serious diseases like cancer, AIDS, etc.

Thus, the amount of spending on airline security is completely out of hand by any rational definition. It is basically taking advantage of people's fear of an unknown enemy and using it to create new restrictions that perpetuate that fear, giving more power to our political leadership and doing virtually nothing useful to actually increase public safety. I mean, we take our shoes off because of an escaped mental patient. Yeah, like that's a credible threat. We can't carry liquids because of a supposed chemical mixing threat that numerous experts say is nearly impossible. We have to have computers X-rayed because supposedly somebody concealed a knife in one. Huh? How? If you've ever taken apart a laptop, the only words that come to mind are "no f-ing way". And so on. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors that costs a ton of money, much of which doesn't improve safety in the slightest (though I'll admit that their improvements in checked baggage scanners were a good thing, and were long overdue).

For comparison, now I'll take your counterpoints one by one.

Regarding nuclear plant safety, nobody has died recently in the United States. This is not true for the world as a whole. Further, because these are machines, they will eventually fail, so the question then becomes one of how quickly the plant's hardware typically degrades. With that information, you can then quantify the probability each year of something failing in a safety-critical way, multiply times the number of deaths if the reactor goes critical (including deaths from cancer, birth defects, etc. that occur decades later) and you will quickly conclude that cutting the NRC is not a very good idea.

Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor in WWII---much more recent than the 1860s. Numerous other countries and militant groups have attacked U.S. interests abroad on an ongoing basis. That one is also crap.

The comment about Internet threats is fallacious because it assumes that deaths are the only reason to do anything. There's also financial harm. The risk of financial harm for things like airlines are closely tied to the risk of deaths, so there's no point discussing them as separate issues. For Internet security, they are unrelated, so you do have to consider them separately.

The global warming is fallacious because it is impractical to quantify the deaths from global warming, though you can consider things like deaths from unusual heat waves as a good place to start. The number is definitely not zero.

You claim that there have been zero deaths from airline crashes is completely silly. Airplanes crash on a regular basis, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. You don't hear about most of them because most of them are small personal planes that are not maintained as well, of course. And since there are real, hard numbers to show the effects of routine maintenance and the audits that guarantee that maintenance, the argument is way off the mark. There are no hard numbers to show the effects of the "increased" airline security.

Your arguments about the plague and smallpox are pretty bizarre, as those diseases don't exist "in the wild" anymore, AFAIK. Thus, if they were introduced today, it would be an act of terrorism, and thus, their inclusion constitutes begging the question.

Mad cow disease has killed people, though not very many. One could argue, though, that it is somewhat similar to other dementia diseases, and thus, that further study could be beneficial if only to improve diagnosis and isolation of this particular disorder easier. Mad cow disease also is closely related to scrapies, a disease that decimates sheep, causing significant financial harm. This is also sufficient reason to study it in more detail.

Finally, your suggestion about objects falling from space is really backwards, as NASA is the reason most of that crap is up there in the first place. :-) I know, I know. You meant meteorite impacts and stuff. Still, that's not the reason to fund NASA. The reason to fund NASA is to help us spread the human race to other parts of the galaxy, reducing the risk of a global pandemic or other disaster wiping out humanity. We've had enough mass extinctions in the past (including mass decimation of humans in the form of numerous pandemics) that this risk is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485885)

Regarding nuclear plant safety, nobody has died recently in the United States. This is not true for the world as a whole.

Very true. It is also true that regarding terrorism, nobody has died recently in the United States. This is not true for the world as a whole. Further, because these are maniacs, they will eventually succeed, so the question then becomes one of how quickly the population's interest typically degrades. With that information, you can then quantify the probability each year of a security measure failing or a whole found in a security-critical way, multiply times the number of deaths if the a nuclear weapon goes critical (including deaths from cancer, birth defects, etc. that occur decades later) and you will quickly conclude that cutting the anti-terrorism measures is not a very good idea.

Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor in WWII---much more recent than the 1860s. Numerous other countries and militant groups have attacked U.S. interests abroad on an ongoing basis. That one is also crap.

Not necessarily. In 1941, more Americans died of heart disease than died at Pearl Harbor. So, according to your logic, we should have NOT gone to war against the Japanese and instead spent the resources on cholesterol research? What is the diferrence between your first example (more people die from strokes than terrorism) and this one?

You claim that there have been zero deaths from airline crashes is completely silly. Airplanes crash on a regular basis, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

I said airline, not airplane. Not all airplanes belong to airlines. No airlines had a plane crash in the past year. And yet we spend a fortune on airline safety.

Your arguments about the plague and smallpox are pretty bizarre, as those diseases don't exist "in the wild" anymore, AFAIK. Thus, if they were introduced today, it would be an act of terrorism, and thus, their inclusion constitutes begging the question.

And yet, we the CDC still spends a small fortune on prevention, and did so BEFORE 9-11.

Either way, my point was not that the amount of money we spend on something should not be linked to the number of people it kills each year. I constantly hear people (Michael Moore comes to mind.. and you) that quote the likelyhood of dying due to a terrorist attack. Granted, that number is small, but the odds change when you start talking about the smuggling of nuclear weapons, which is exactly what we are talking about here. New York contains 8.2 million people. The US contains 300 million. If a nuclear bomb goes off in New York and kills 3 million, your odds of dying in a terrorist attack just went from almost non-existant to 1 in 100. Of course, this does not count any economic impact and other effects of such a detonation. Given this, I think it is worth spending a little money on. Granted, the odds are slim, but when you have people who won't give up and try an infinite number times, those odds get a lot close to 1/1 as time goes on.

So it's not really about how much money we are spending vs how many died last year. It's really about how many would die if? and are there people who want to do this sort of thing? and what are there odds of success? and what would be the cost of rebuilding? and finally, given our response to 9-11, would you want to see our response to a mushroom clout over Manhatten? I think it is much cheaper to prevent than react.

Re:Expected outcome (1)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483141)

How many votes will additional money for stroke researching bring? As Nixon once said, "Fuck the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway." Which is to not to say that I liked Nixon or dislike Jews, but the politics of pork determine what gets spent where. And what government money IS spent on stroke research is probably because some medical lobbyist has a relationship with a Congressman or Senator, or the bribe was sent to the right place (Duke Cunningham or Jefferson maybe) rather than any real application of rational allocation. And anyway, stroke research is simply unsexy compared to scintillating neutron detectors and other star trek sounding stuff. It's selling "de-oxylase reduction inhibitors that operate on the K- cell gateways" gobblygook vs "At 3M, we don't make the bombs, we make the bomb explosions bigger".

Re:Expected outcome (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483385)

No, "At 3M, we don't make the bombs, we make the bombs stick to stuff".

A Lesson in (abuse of) Statistics (4, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484487)

Okay, let's see here...strokes kill about 150000 people each year in the U.S., and the government spends about $400 million on stroke research. Terrorists with radioactive materials have killed approximately zero people ever, and the government spends $650 million+ on (admittedly clever) directional radiation detectors. Yeah, we're clearly doing a great job of rationally allocating our money.

You fail to understand statistics. The 150k strokes a year is a large statistical sample and thus it is easy to predict the number from one year to the nect with some degree of statistical accuracy.

Now consider the nuclear case. There have been zero incidents since nuclear weapons existed in man-portable form, say 20 years ago. Now assuming a poisson distribution of events this means that we can conclude with a 95% confidence level that the rate of such events is less than 3.09 per 20 years i.e. less that a roughly 15.4% probability per year. Assuming that such an event would kill 1 million people this means that we are only 95% certain that the annual death rate from such terrorism is less than the death rate from strokes.

However the above is a conservative estimate because technology is making it easier to build nuclear weapons so whereas the above calculation assumed a constant probability distribution of such events that is not correct and it is getting more and more probable. So really we are less than 95% certain. In addition comparing the death rate is not a fair statistic. A better comparison would be years of human life lost. A majority, but certainly not all, stroke victims are old or have recently suffered other life threatening conditions like a heart attack or aneurism. However a terrorist bomb would kill children as much as the elderly (and everyone in between).

So while you cannot show that this is the most effective way of spending money to save life neither can you show that it is not. However given the uncertainties in any such calculation it is far from a total waste of time which is what you were suggesting.

Re:Expected outcome (3, Interesting)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483423)

Or:

1. DoD contractor delivers working unit, thoroughly stress tested in the real world, has ability to mass produce unit quickly with solid quality control.

2. CalTech students produce one for cheap that supposedly works in their lab, then graduate and go to work for DoD contractor and get paid six figures.

Federally funded labs and research priorities (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482615)

It is funny how much of the federally funded research right now appears to be directly applied to counter-terrorism efforts. I am all for that being done, but from what I have noticed when going through the national labs web-pages, it seems that the majority of research dollars are going to these efforts. I think that if you counted military research labs, you might find that more federal dollars are going to counter-terrorism than are going to alternative energy projects.

Not really the case, these are feigned interests (3, Insightful)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482703)

The researchers in this case are interested only in the science, but in order to get the government funding, they need to think up ways that their research could be used by the government. A hot-button issue for the government is national security, so applications related to that are the best to mention. In reality this neutron camera is for fusion research that could ultimately provide cheap power to the world.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

cybermage (112274) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483515)

Your response was well reasoned, very insightful, and thought provoking.

Are you sure you belong here? Judging by your user Id, I'm guessing your brains haven't yet been rotted by hot grits. You may want to run while there's still time.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483525)

Yep. Back in the 70's and 80's 'alternate energy' was the hot buzzword... every goverment agency and a huge chunk of goverment research contracts were working hard on 'em.
 
We see how that worked out.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483643)

"We see how that worked out."

Besides being limited by the amount of funding available, fusion research has been hindered by various complex interactions that were not originally known about. With greater understanding comes greater control. The ends will ultimately justify the means.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484157)

There's other forms of alternate energy than fusion. NASA, in particular, spent megabucks on windpower and solar cells. With little result.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484591)

The ambition was there, but not the technology. In the case of solar, it was not financially feasible yet, but is now becoming so due to technological advances. In the case of fusion, we're not even to the point yet of thinking about financial feasibility - we still have to work out how best to get the job done (my money's on inertial confinement), and then work on how best to repeatedly produce the reaction in a financially feasible way.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486057)

-5 misses the point.

Re:Not really the case, these are feigned interest (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486283)

I somehow doubt that the people will mind if this money is WASTED when the nuke-CARRYING ship just fires the damned nuke from a container picked up in transit, unmasked when at some optimal firing range, and then launched before entering the port supporting the background scanner.

No, these scanners will make a BUNDLE of money for SOMEbodies. Why? They irrationality of port-of-entry scanners being land-locked will come to the fore and some enterprising person or company will propose mounting the scanners along the shipping lanes, corralling the ships down a path (I'm thinking WWII GIUK/choke points as well as the STTOS Maps of Federation Shipping and Warp Travel routes...I'm a graphical thinker, okay?) instead of letting them arrive and then blow up when close enough to dirty the beach.

-- Make the scanners ship-mounted (as if they aren't already on USCG or other nations' CG units)

-- Scan the inbound ships (even naval ships) for nukes (this will upset the USN especially if Open Source detectors (assuming the critical components are not military or munitions list items) because now Japanese and Korean protesters can TRULY find out which USN/Other ships have nukes...)

-- Scan outbound ships, too

For that matter, put the scanners in tethered balloons along commercial aircraft glide slopes and require all aircraft inbound to dogleg thru the area when about 125 miles out. (I'm thinking Longbow Apache game's training boxes in the air.... It was a bitch keeping that helo IN the guide boxes... Damn that my CDs got scratched...)

Re:Federally funded labs and research priorities (1)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482825)

In a perverse way, these seemingly misplaced priorities actually make sense. When conflict is possible in the distant future, you make long term strategic moves like under cutting your opponent's economy ( in this case alternative enrergy to undercut oil). When you believe that conflict is imminent, you go for defensive measures.

A parallel example is Japanese aircraft in WWII. Right up to the surrender they were developing better and better fighters/interceptors. Yet their primary bomber - the 'Betty' - was in service at the beginning of the war, with known defects even then, yet they kept producing it with very few modifications though the war.

In both situations, this is evidence of very poor strategic planning.

Re:Federally funded labs and research priorities (1)

El Pollo Loco (562236) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482835)

It's all marketing. If you're not involved in the war on terror you get your funding cut. Maybe this will change in 2008, maybe not. In order to get people to give you money, they have to care about what you're doing. The most effective way to get people to care is to play the fear card.

Space Age, now Terrorist Age? (1)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482899)

Something that might be worth considering is that a lot of other uses (good or bad) tend to spin off research in one particular field. How many commonplace technologies today are credited with being derived from aerospace research (i.e. "Space Age" technologies)? Though more ominous sounding, there's a number of useful tech ideas that may result from such counter-terrorism research as well. I would agree however, that I'd prefer the primary focus of the initial research to be on something with a more noble cause.

Re:Space Age, now Terrorist Age? (1)

Kazrath (822492) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483339)

When I was younger I worked at a resourt doing houskeeping and eventually interior painting as a Journeyman's helper. During the summer I would sit out on the beach and chat with individuals and families whom vacationed there. One Middle Eastern man was there with his family and during our conversation it turned out he did biological weapons research and methods to apply this technology directly to medicine.

I am just indicating exactly what the parent already stated. Once the technology is created it is a matter of finding alternate ways it can be applied to benifit many different correlating fields of study. And there are actually people out there who do this research.

What kind of distance? (1)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482633)

Are we talking feet? Inches? Miles? What's the range of "traditional tech", and how much is "much greater"?

Re:What kind of distance? Meters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482761)

Meters
It is science we use meters, or a form thereof.

Re:What kind of distance? Meters (1)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483007)

In the range of more than three, but less than ten.

Re:What kind of distance? Meters (1)

thewils (463314) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483947)

Let's see, US/Canada border - 8000kms. US/Mexico border 3000kms, plus a guess for the coastlines - let's say, conservatively, another 8000kms. Total 19,000kms.

So in order for these to be effective you only need (19000 * 100)/2 = 950,000 of these things arranged at 10m intervals around the country and you're completely safe. Unless the terrorists use airplanes.

What makes people think that a device has to be smuggled into the country to be effective? If something big went off in a vessel in the port of New York there wouldn't be a lot left of Manhattan.

Re:What kind of distance? (2, Informative)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482885)

It has the "potential to detect through various types of shielding" and "through more shielding" (FTA) but what types of shielding and at what thicknesses? Soil, Rock, Water, Lead, Etc?...
This Reads: 'fancy new-fangled oceanic Shipping Container Nuke Detector' all over it, and maybe something new for surveillance aircraft too.

Re:What kind of distance? (2)

timtimtim2000 (884095) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482943)

Good point. If the distance is the range of say the whole earth, wouldn't the "Nuke Found" LED be on constantly?

Wrong State!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482659)

Sandia National Labs are in New Mexico, not California.

Re:Wrong State!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482799)

Sandia National Labs has a location in Livermore, California, right across the street from Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

Re:Wrong State!!! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482809)

Sandia National Labs are in New Mexico, not California

Sandia has facilities in both [sandia.gov] states. New Mexico is the larger of the two.

Re:Wrong State!!! (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483251)

New Mexico? What? Why would the United States Department of Energy put a top secret laboratory in a foreign country?

False positives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21482661)

If they get it wrong on the neutrons vs gamma rays test, it will inconvenience many innocent travelers carrying harmless quasars and pulsars.

Good research (1)

rice_burners_suck (243660) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482677)

This is good because I don't know about you but I wouldn't want my city to be

TV as a positive influence (1)

g4sy (694060) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482803)

I ignore TV and only watch what my friends watch (sometimes) but I can't help but thinking that (based on my reading and understanding of the Iranian threat) the hit TV series "24" might have done America a favour in showing them how the next domestic terrorist attack will happen? They were theorizing as am I, but Iran sure sure scares me a lot more that Kim Jong Il. At least Iran has people to carry the bomb who wouldn't defect as soon as they got out of their country.

"Smuggled"?? (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482901)

If you are going to smuggle a nuke, for terrorism or 'middle finger to the UN' purposes, why would it ever be that thoroughly shielded? I mean, you may or may not want it to kill everyone that comes into contact with it, but are you really THAT concerned with the radiation being detected from afar? If it were discovered, why not just detonate the SOB and then go around hinting that you have more of them?

IANA[Nuclear Arms Dealer], but this seems more meant to detect the locations of nukes in established nations to me. That terrorism slant is just a smokescreen.

More likely: Perhaps we're booting up ColdWar v2...

Wasn't there some kind of Soviet in the 'Oil for Food' program? Didn't the Iraq war disrupt BILLIONS of dollars worth of illegal oil going to Russia, or something like that?

Re:"Smuggled"?? (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483399)

Uhhh...it seems to me that generally a terrorist involved in a destructive act has as a main goal the largest body count they can manage. While a nuke going off on a ship in a harbor would no doubt be very destructive and possibly kill thousands of people and cause a lot of panic everywhere, the effect would certainly be greater if you managed to get the bomb into the downtown area of a big city and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Either way you're likely to see some serious retaliation, so why not take the extra effort to get maximum destruction from your bomb. I'm not a nuclear arms dealer either, but it seems to me that compared to the effort required to procure a nuclear weapon, figuring out a way to effectively shield it would be pretty easy.

Re:"Smuggled"?? (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484099)

...it seems to me that generally a terrorist involved in a destructive act has as a main goal the largest body count they can manage.
I don't think you're basing this on any actual data or observations. I know that this is what we're told on a regular basis, but it just doesn't jive.

It doesn't take very long to come up with some scenarios with a much-higher body count than we've seen thus far due to terrorism. Biological agents in the water supply comes to mind. I'm sure there are tons of others.

None of these have been attempted yet, and I suspect there is a good reason for it. Personally, I look to the name - 'terrorism' implies that they would like to see us gripped with 'fear'.

The current tactics are good for that, too. Small kill-counts in random places leave a person wondering, 'could this happen to someone I love?'

The 'max kill' tactics would have a completely different impact psychologically. Those would push the targets away from mere 'fear' toward 'hatred'. The train of thought becomes 'those bastards are going to do this to ME, unless they are stopped', and faced with that certain logic, few would allow the tactics to continue.

You may disagree, but I truly believe that if it were widely held that Osama wanted to nuke the mainland and kill millions, etc, we would have him in custody today.

Re:"Smuggled"?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21485397)

No, all it takes is one envelope laced with talcum powder sent to a San Francisco post office and you will see an immense shitstorm of government bureaucracy in action.

THAT is what a terrorist wants. Panties in wads over 5 cents worth of talcum powder.

Terrorism isn't really about the act itself. It's about the "potential" act of terror. Keeping people in such a heightened state of alert that it erodes all of their freedoms and forces the government to extreme measures.

They are pretty much winning at this point IMO.

Re:"Smuggled"?? (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483413)

If you are going to smuggle a nuke, for terrorism or 'middle finger to the UN' purposes,

Why would you even need to smuggle it? A terrorist worth his salt could highjack a cargo ship without anyone know it, sail up into NYC harbor, get as close as possible to the docks (and or downtown) and then just detonate it as their about to be boarded by the authorities when they notice something is amiss.

If they needed something further inland, they could construct a crude ballistic missile and launch it from a ship. Heck they could hit Washington, DC from Chesapeake Bay on a ship pretending to be going to dock in Baltimore.

Think the thing with nukes is that you don't have to be accurate to have an impact.

Both of the scenarios would require detection and interception way before the terrorists get even close to American shores and would render the aforementioned Neutron Scatters useless.

First Strike Tech. (1)

bareman (60518) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483883)

If the detection range is really far (as in satellite range) you can locate and potentially eliminate an enemy's arsenal before it launches.

[I did not read the article.]

smuggled OUT, not in (1)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484225)

Think this through a little more carefully. Where do you find weapons-grade fissionables? Iranian centrifuges notwithstanding, it's still very difficult to enrich uranium unless you're a fairly wealthy country with a biggish industrial plant devoted to the cause (which then makes you a tempting target for IDF air raids, cf. Syria, recent mystery raid into). And to make Pu, you need a working nuclear reactor, plus some decent chemists on staff. Not likely if you're al-Wacko, the latest crazed Islamic suicide squad.

No, the best place to find weapons-grade fissionables is in the First World, especially now that tons of nuclear weapons are being decommissioned, and when e.g. Russian weapons security is (1) laughably inadequate, and (2) reliant on the purity of motives of drastically underpaid and often embittered ex-Red Army apparatchiks.

So, yeah, finding good technological means to monitor the possible exit points of fissionables from First World sources is indeed not a bad way to throw a monkey wrench in the plans of would-be nuclear terrorists. Consider it the equivalent of having a security camera in a gun-dealer's shop. It's not there to monitor the dealer or his customers, but rather to prevent hoodies from breaking into the shop and making off with some useful hardware.

Re:smuggled OUT, not in (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485103)

That's an excellent point.

I'd wager, though, that due to the value of these items, the ones that are at risk would probably be sold before stolen in almost every case.

Re:smuggled OUT, not in (1)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486227)

Oh aye. That's why I mentioned the Russians. It's certainly a lot cheaper to find a disgruntled Russian corporal who doesn't mind earning ten years' salary in ten minutes by turning a blind eye than mounting a Mission : Impossible operation to steal a warhead.

That's also why I suggest an important use is to backstop the human component of nuclear stewardship. Put one of these guys next to the main gate of your storage depot, essentially. Even if SSgt. Ivan sells his soul for 30 pieces of silver, the alarm bells should go off when the unauthorized truck exits the main gate. The fortunate aspect here is that there already exists a fairly tight transportation network for high-grade fissionables in every nuclear nation, and monitoring at a fairly modest number of checkpoints could significantly improve confidence that nothing has leaked out of the system somewhere.

Imagine, for example, that you have one installed next to the end of the runway at each AFB. You'd never have the folly committed last month, when a bomber was accidentally loaded up with nuclear weapons and flew across the country with them, because little red lights would light up in the control tower as soon as the airplane taxied into position for take-off.

I realize none of this is mentioned in TFA. But why would anyone seriously involved in nuclear proliferation issues tell a fucking journalist his real intentions? Far better to trowel on a little entertaining bullshit about monitoring ports for smuggled suitcase nukes.

Yes but..... (1)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482937)

Yes, but does it detect nucular weapons?

How scintilating (2, Funny)

t0qer (230538) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482961)

proton-rich liquid scintillators


That kind of hot geek talk gets my protien rich liquid scintillator scintillated.

Difficult to conceal? (1)

IceCreamGuy (904648) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482965)

While some gamma rays can be blocked from detectors, neutrons are much more difficult to conceal. In a lab test, the camera easily detected and imaged a source placed across the hallway, through several walls and cabinets.
I'm not a physicist, but I do know that slow neutrons are easily blocked by a several common elements like boron and hydrogen (I know there are more, but it's been a while). Shields can be easily built with a mixture of boron and wax, even a Google search for "neutron shield" returns products ready to buy. I'm not in any knowledgeable position to comment on the effectiveness of this device, but if it becomes widespread, wouldn't it be trivial for a large, evil entity hiding smuggled nuclear materials to invest in more shielding?

Re:Difficult to conceal? (1)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483279)

The detector is specifically designed to detect high energy neutrons, which are much more difficult to stop. AFAIK (and IANA[nuclear physicist]) the only way to stop fast neutrons is to bounce them off something until they are slow neutrons and can be dealt with normally.

Re:Difficult to conceal? (1)

IceCreamGuy (904648) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483353)

Ah, makes sense. I just looked back over the article and I completely missed this bit the first time:

"It doesn't have to worry about the low-energy nuisance neutrons that are always all around us because it can only see high energy neutrons, and the high-energy neutrons carry almost all of the imaging information," says Lasche.
I guess you would need some kind of water cooling facility and a lot of effort to get them down to an acceptable energy. Well, nevermind then, thanks -Julius

Basic question about neutron detection (1)

andy314159pi (787550) | more than 6 years ago | (#21482975)

So detecting charged particles and figuring out how much energy they are ejected with is easy to do. But neutrons obviously lack Coulomb charge, so you couldn't use an applied field and see how much they bend, as you would with ejected electrons. Maybe I misunderstood and they aren't really detecting how much energy they are ejected with. Someone fill me in. How do you determine the trajectory and kinetic energy of chargeless particles?

Re:Basic question about neutron detection (1)

lazyDog86 (1191443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483111)

These neutrons have a very large amount of kinetic energy sufficient to ionize an atom it happens to collide with. A neutron detector combines a reservoir of atoms with which to collide with a scintillation detector which measures the photons released after these ionizing collisions. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintillation_counter/ [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Basic question about neutron detection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483449)

At the energy scale of interest, neutrons and protons scatter elastically and isotropically. When a neutron scatters a proton within a single detector, you can measure the time of impact and the energy transferred to the proton. Adding a second detector allows the possibility of a second scatter event, which you again can measure the time of impact and the energy transferred to the proton. Now, using the time-of-flight between the two detectors, the relative positions of the two detectors, and the energy transferred in each collision, you can reconstruct a cone of angles where the incident neutron came from. This is essentially the same technique Compton telescopes [navy.mil] use to resolve gamma (also chargeless!) signals. I'm guessing this is what Sandia does.

... in New Mexico (not California) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483027)

Sandia National Labs is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, not California.

Re:... in New Mexico (not California) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483269)

There is a branch in California that is there to support joint activities with Livermore Labs.

Pity... (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483029)

Smuggling a nuke wrapped in a bale of marijuana will no longer be plausible option.

YOU FAIL IT? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21483161)

code shari8g

The technology doesn't matter (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483213)

A few years ago, one of the TV network investigative shows did a piece where they smuggled some 'look-alike' fissionable material through customs. That was in the port of Long Beach, IIRC. The current technology detectors could have picked it up, but as red-faced law enforcement authorities explained, they were too understaffed to do adequate checks on incoming cargo.


As a local LA radio personality put it: They don't have the manpower to check the ports out because all the cops are working undercover at the strip joints, buying lap dances with the homeland security funds.

Local Expert Chimed In (3, Interesting)

ryanisflyboy (202507) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483397)

A local nuclear physicist in our area recently commented about the current detection systems in use. He regarded them as so easily thwarted they are basically worthless. He even described how to do it on a local news broadcast (sorry, I couldn't find a link). It basically involved very low cost (common) materials. He indicated the type of technology talked about in this article is really the only meaningful method for detecting nuclear material. He further stated that the organizations responsible for detecting this material know what they are using is worthless, but are unwilling to spend the additional money needed for the correct technology. He was upset that they were more interested in putting on a 'show' of force, rather than offering real protection.

Let's hope that isn't true, and places like Sandia are working on making nuetron detection less expensive.

i'm not a physicist (0)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483485)

but from my understanding of neutrons (that they go through everything), could you set one of these up on each coast and cover the whole coast? well, probably 3 each coast, to triangulate. cancel out the known, nonmoving sources (our reactors, medical equipment, etc.) and presto: you can see all moving backpack/ container nukes

additionally (again, pardon my ignorance), are there nuclear elements that don't give off neutrons as they decay? which means you can salt a typical c4 or tnt explosive with this element, and irradiate times square or the washington mall, without any previous neutron detection?

Re:i'm not a physicist (1)

glaswegian (803339) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483671)

Neutrons don't go through everything. You may be thinking of neutrinos, which pretty much do go through everything.

Most radioactive elements do not give off single neutrons. They are more likely to give off alpha particles (two protons and two neutrons), beta particls (electrons or positrons) along with gamma rays.

I'm a physicist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21484057)

Neutrinos go through everything, but cannot be used to detect nukes. Neutrons are stopped pretty quickly by ordinary water (the hydrogen nuclei have a high cross-section due to the comparable masses).

Re:i'm not a physicist (1)

TheOriginalRevdoc (765542) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484307)

You're thinking of neutrinos. Neutrons interact with matter fairly easily, so they don't travel very far, even in in air. A neutron detector, therefore, has to be quite close to a neutron source to work.

Re:i'm not a physicist (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484363)

but from my understanding of neutrons (that they go through everything), could you set one of these up on each coast and cover the whole coast? well, probably 3 each coast, to triangulate. cancel out the known, nonmoving sources (our reactors, medical equipment, etc.) and presto: you can see all moving backpack/ container nukes

No, the range of these neutrons is pretty short. If unshielded and unscattered - a few hundreds of yards in free air. Or, in practice, a few tens of feet at best. I think you are confusing neutrons (which can be shielded against, but the shielding is heavy) with neutrinos (which go through everything).
 
 

additionally (again, pardon my ignorance), are there nuclear elements that don't give off neutrons as they decay? which means you can salt a typical c4 or tnt explosive with this element, and irradiate times square or the washington mall, without any previous neutron detection?

Yes, this is true. This is not however an argument against these machines - as no defense will cover all bases.

Mod parent down, wrong on both points. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21484609)

No to both points. The former point is corrected by other posters. As to the latter...

(1) If an isotope decays (all fissible ones do), it has to decay *somehow*. Neutron emission is in fact the hardest to detect. Alpha (He nuclei), Beta (electrons), and Gamma (photon) emissions are all easily detectable due to their electromagnetic interaction with matter. Neutrons only interact via the strong force, so you need large amounts of material with short nuc. interaction lengths (Pb, Fe, etc), and even then you're fighting an uphill battle.

(2) Any salting material would provide almost no shielding of the original material, and would also decay. See point 1.

And why is the parent still moded up? This is like the 4th debunking comment.

Re:Mod parent down, wrong on both points. (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485413)

WTF is this? It seems like the parent is purposefully putting out misinformation! His post is completely made up, and I think it was intentially made so.

Some background (as it were...) (3, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483571)

Nick (assuming it's the same guy and not some other Nick Mascarenas) was a post-doc in the same lab as me at Caltech in the early '90's. We were working on a reactor neutrino experiment (now defunct) looking for neutrino oscillations. Discriminating against fast neutron backgrounds was an important part of the design problem.

What has been done here is fairly clever, although I'm doubtful as to the ultimate viability due to low cross-sections and high backgrounds and easy work-arounds by the bad guys.

Spontaneous fission produces fast neutrons, which are relatively hard to shield against. First they have to thermalize, then get captured. Things that are good at shielding gamma rays (heavy elements) are lousy at thermalizing neutrons (light elements), so it makes the bad guy's shielding problems harder to solve.

Ergo, if you can detect fast neutrons, and determine where they are coming from, you have a backup bomb detector that is harder to beat. The way Nick is proposing to do this is with a setup in which you have two planar liquid scintillator detectors and look for coincidences (suitably delayed by the neutron's quite significant travel time) between them. Fast neutrons deposit energy into the detectors via proton recoil, which creates a distinct kind of optical event from electron-positron showers produced by gamma rays. Furthermore, you tend to get forward scattering, so you can at least tell which hemisphere the neutron originated from, most of the time.

The data analysis is tricky, the neutron detection rates will be low, and if I was designing this I'd go for a thick secondary detector and count on thermalization and capture to create the secondary signal, rather than having a thin secondary detector looking for another recoil event. With a segmented detector or similar you'd be able to still do a reasonable job of the kinematics.

Discriminating against cosmic ray neutrons is going to be painful for this technology, however, and furthermore the comment that another poster made that "this tech shows we don't need to give up our civil liberties to be safe because it proves we can catch stuff at the boarder" is to my mind utterly wrong-headed. It assumes the border can be made perfectly impermeable, and that is simply not the case, as a million kilos of grass or whatever it is a year proves. As long as there is a chance that one bad guy can slip something through, Americans have two choices: be willing to die for your freedom, or give up your freedom (and be willing to die anyway, because a police state will not protect you.)

Final thought: we used to joke, back in the day, that we could sell our detector design to the U.S. navy as a means of detecting stationary nuclear submarines (it took a couple of days for useful neutrino statistics to build up when the prototype detector was about 10 m from a reactor core.) It looks like Nick might have found a way to do something very close to that after all...

Re:Some background (as it were...) (1)

lucifig (255388) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484127)

Er...that post made me feel really dumb. I'm going to come up with a Soviet Russia joke to compensate.

nothing focuses the mind like a deadline (2, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21483845)

and now the bad people have one: get their nukes (or at least the fissionable components) into the USA before these detectors get rolled out.

How long? let's see. if they're "developing" it now, say 3 years until it's in production and another year until it's at the major points of entry. But you've got to cover all the points of entry - sea, air(freight), land via Canada and Mexico. Make that about 10,000 PoE in all, so you're talking about another couple of years at least. That means about 6 years or until the beginning of 2014 to get a few grapefruit sized pieces of metal across the border.

Really bad thought: maybe it would be easier to get material that's already in US stockpiles - what use are border checks then?

Smuggling nukes is uneccessary (1)

LM741N (258038) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484607)

All one has to do it put a nuke on a ship and get it close to a major port city, then detonate it. Total destruction without going through Customs.

Re:Smuggling nukes is uneccessary (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 6 years ago | (#21484963)

Exactly.

Most of our major ports don't even screen until after the ship is unloaded.

And forget about screening at regional ports.

Never send a Red to do a decent security job - only a Blue will do.

Film destroyer (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 6 years ago | (#21485417)

Of note: if you use this system to scan containers, post office mail or airport luggage: it will destroy any photographic film in them (but have no effect on CCDs). Yes, I do work on nuclear reactors and neutron beams. Similar detectors are already in use at some large airports, for freight.

This is a passive detector (1)

IvyKing (732111) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486365)

This detector is looking for the neutrons emitted by the nuclear material and doesn't involve using a neutron beam for interrogation.

New Way to Uncover Nuke Subs? (1)

bilturner (907791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21486281)

Reminds me of that recent blurb about the Chinese nuke sub that surfaced in the middle of one of our naval exercises... maybe we could use a Neutron Scatter Camera to detect Chinese subs...?
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