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Physics: Remote detection of hazardous radioactive substances

Nature Communications

May 10, 2017

A method for the remote detection of radioactive material is demonstrated in Nature Communications this week. Remote detection tools could be used to aid the safe handling of radioactive substances and may have potential uses in dealing with nuclear hazards, including accidents at nuclear power plants and the detection of nuclear weapons.

Conventional radiation detectors, such as Geiger-Muller counters and ion chamber detectors, have technical limitations in the remote detection of sources. For example, Geiger-Muller counters can detect 1 milli Curie (mCi) of Cobalt-60 (60Co) at a maximum distance of 3.5 metres, but are inefficient at measuring lower levels of radioactivity or at longer distances.

EunMi Choi and colleagues demonstrate a method with higher sensitivity that uses high-power pulsed electromagnetic-waves to detect a radioactive source. This study provides experimental verification of the technique, which was proposed several years ago. The approach is shown to detect a radioactive source (0.64 mCi of 60Co) located around 1.2 metres away from the detection system, but with further optimisation it may have the potential to detect at distances of up to 1 kilometre, the authors propose.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms15394

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