Public Release: 

Brookhaven researchers develop counterterror technologies

DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

NEW YORK, NY -- Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are developing counterterrorism technologies to help protect the United States from would-be terrorists wielding nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, toxic chemicals, or explosives.

"These sensor technologies give us the capability to discern and identify minute quantities of radioactive materials, and also detect chemical and biological agents and explosives," said Ralph James, Brookhaven's Associate Director for Energy, Environment, and National Security. "When deployed at the nation's ports, bridges, tunnels, and transportation hubs, these sensors can help law enforcement agencies intercept dangerous materials before they are used in a terrorist attack."

Current technologies under development include:

  • Cadmium-zinc-telluride sensors: These tiny sensors can detect gamma rays emitted by radionuclides of interest to terrorists, including cesium and cobalt. Unlike high-purity germanium detectors, which are expensive and must be kept chilled, these work at room temperature and are inexpensive.
  • Large-volume xenon-based detectors: These xenon-gas-filled detectors are another room-temperature device that can detect and identify radioisotopes with great sensitivity.
  • Thermal neutron camera: This highly sensitive helium-based imaging system uses a wire chamber and coded aperture to "see" fissionable radioactive materials like plutonium from a distance.
  • Mini-Raman LIDAR chemical sensor: This one-of-a-kind portable chemical sensor can locate and identify chemicals (like those used in nerve gas) in the air or deposited on surfaces from a safe distance, using laser scattering patterns to identify a substance's distinct chemical signature.
  • Urban Shield: This initiative would integrate real-time data from a network of sensors distributed within a municipal area. This network would employ an array of meteorological instrumentation, satellite data, and detectors to identify and help track chemicals or radionuclides after a release, and provide crucial information to emergency responders.

James will discuss this work during the "Environmental Radioactivity and Low-Background Radioactivity Monitoring in Service to the Society" session on "Homeland Security/Safeguards," sponsored by the Division of Nuclear Chemistry and Technology, on Sunday, September 7, 2003, at 9:35 a.m. in the Jacob Javits Convention Center, Room 1A15/1A16. This work is primarily funded by the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.


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