Public Release: 

Spring news tipsheet

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


Dress rehearsal for nuclear weapons detection --
Performing for an international audience may induce stage fright for some, but not for a nuclear detection device being tested in Freiburg, Germany. The device debuted in October for its first international demonstration and proved it could measure short-lived isotopes produced by underground nuclear testing.

ARSA, the Automated Radioxenon Sampler/Analyzer, was developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists to collect, purify and measure the fission product xenon, a telltale sign of an underground nuclear detonation. In Freiburg, ARSA detected a short-lived radioactive isotope called xenon-135 that was produced by European nuclear power plants and also is emitted during underground nuclear tests.

When completely developed in early 2001, ARSA will be licensed to a commercial company that will sell it to countries attempting to fulfill radionuclide monitoring duties under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

New science offers clues to artifact's origin --
What happens to 3,000-year-old bronze that has been buried for centuries? Knowledge of the surface chemistry of ancient objects may provide clues to their history and origin, and influence approaches to preservation. The first high-resolution images of an ornamental fragment that likely originated in what is now eastern Turkey show the surface has segregated into tin and copper regions. Surface corrosion was minimized because the tin scavenges oxygen to form a tin oxide that prevents it from corroding the copper, according to analysis by an Auger Electron Spectrometer at Pacific Northwest's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

Italian and British researchers worked with EMSL scientists and the extremely sensitive instrument to view and understand the artifact's surface composition. High resolution mapping of corrosion products is a first step to understanding conditions under which interior corrosion occurs. EMSL is a DOE user facility providing world class scientific equipment and expertise to the external scientific community.

Catching cosmic rays --
In May, the European Union will put into effect first-ever occupational safety standards to track and limit airline crew members' exposure to cosmic rays - radiation found outside the Earth's atmosphere and encountered on many commercial flights. Coincidentally, this landmark directive occurs as the current solar cycle reaches peak activity, resulting in solar storms and other increased radiation zones.

As interest in cosmic radiation heats up, researchers at Pacific Northwest are prepared to shed light on the issue with a series of detectors designed to characterize the types and amounts of cosmic radiation encountered during commercial flight. Called a tissue-equivalent proportional counter, the detector simulates a human cell nucleus and records the energy deposited, and resulting tissue damage, as cosmic radiation passes through the body's cells.

Now, Far West Technologies Inc. of Richland, Wash., is customizing the detector in response to interest from several European regulatory agencies, including those in Spain and England.

Similar detectors were developed in support of U.S. space travel and now are standard equipment on U.S. space shuttles.

Practice makes perfect for international border officials --
A group of Moldovan border enforcement officials will return home with more than American souvenirs after a May training program at Pacific Northwest. They'll cart home ideas and tools needed to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Through a program sponsored by the Department of Defense and U.S. Customs Service, Pacific Northwest scientists teach border enforcement officials tricks of the smuggling trade, such as where weapons components can be hidden in vehicles. They also train border officials to use two technologies developed at Pacific Northwest that can help identify smuggled items.

Increased border security in countries such as landlocked Moldova has become more important since the Soviet Union's demise. Since 1997, Pacific Northwest has trained about 175 border enforcement officials from 12 Eastern European and former Soviet bloc countries.


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