Nuclear Detection Ace?

by JOHN C. WOHLSTETTER August 1, 2013

A US firm's possible security game-changer ....

Decision Sciences (DS) offers an overview of its revolutionary product designed to detect hidden nuclear weapon material.  Its muon technology is explained by its CEO's NBC interview (10:43).  And here is another DS CEO interview on CBS Defense News (6:56--an earlier interview that does not account for what now is an operational product, but valuable for its detailed background).

Here is a brief description of how muons interact with Earth:

On Earth, most naturally occurring muons are created by cosmic rays, which consist mostly of protons, many arriving from deep space at very high energy.

"About 10,000 muons reach every square meter of the earth's surface a minute; these charged particles form as by-products of cosmic rays colliding with molecules in the upper atmosphere. Traveling at relativistic speeds, muons can penetrate tens of meters into rocks and other matter before attenuating as a result of absorption or deflection by other atoms."

When a cosmic ray proton impacts atomic nuclei in the upper atmosphere, pions are created. These decay within a relatively short distance (meters) into muons (their preferred decay product), and muon neutrinos. The muons from these high energy cosmic rays generally continue in about the same direction as the original proton, at a velocity near the speed of light.

In the 2011 global shipping trade there were 580 million shipping container TEUs ( TEUs are twenty-foot equivalent containers).  The US share was 20 million physical containers (many containers exceed 20 feet length--the widely-used 40-foot container = 2 TEU), entering the US annually from a total of 742 ports overseas.

DS's detector is passive, using very few components; its CEO notes that itconsumes about the same electric power as two portable hair dryers.  It adds no radiation to the environment, as muons naturally bombard the planet zillions of times daily.  Muons are terrific (99 percent reliable) at detecting concealed heavy materials, like uranium & plutonium; muons can penetrate up to 700 meters into the Earth.

Another product DS is developing will use electron scans, good for lighter material like those used in conventional explosives.

DS's product can be used at airports & border checkpoints, as well.

Mr. Wohlstetter is the author of "Sleepwalking With the Bomb" (Discovery Institute Press, 2012). Follow John on twitter at @JohnWohlstetter 

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