New Technique

Steel cargo containers often "shield" hazardous nuclear materials that are being smuggled into US ports. Current methods utilize X-rays to detect such materials, albeit with a few drawbacks. Current methods make use of X-rays ,which are not effective through shielding. Moreover, high levels of X-ray harm electronics and other valuable materials within cargo containers. 

However, new research on a new imaging technique may solve these problems rather effectively, ultimately presenting less of the downsides.

The study on the new technique was published on April 18 on Nature Scientific Reports, presenting the collaborative work of scientists from three different universities.

The report show that the researchers used an ion accelerator to produce neutrons and high-energy photons, which they then beam onto the container to scan. The particles excite nuclear materials, causing an emission of gamma rays and neutrons, detectable through the container, which the researchers were able to analyze.

In short, the behavior of the emissions indicate whether or not there are dangerous materials within the container.

The emitted neutrons from nuclear materials are either "prompt" or "delayed." Non-nuclear materials do not emit delayed reactions, which allows scientists to determine whether or not nuclear materials are in fact, present. Furthermore, the researchers focus on the emitted gamma rays' signals to detect and measure the material's atomic number, and its potential density.

A 3D representation of the experimental setup of the imaging method. Below are energy readings of emitted particles. Credit: Scientific Reports

Safer and Better

Though the process involves potentially dangerous particles and waves, the researchers report that the amount of radiation that the technique uses is minimized.

The study was only done experimentally, and is yet to be tested in real-world conditions. However, the researchers hope that, one day, this method that they have developed may be employed in US ports to aid in the inspection of steel cargo containers.

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