Scanning Cargo for Nuclear Material and Conventional Explosives
The team propose using a particle accelerator to alternately smash ionised hydrogen molecules and deuterium ions into targets of carbon and boron respectively. The collisions produce beams of gamma rays of various energies as well as neutrons. These beams are then passed through the cargo.
By measuring the way the beams are absorbed, Goldberg and company say they can work out whether the cargo contains explosives or nuclear materials. And they say they can do it at the rate of 20 containers per hour.
That’s an ambitious goal that presents numerous challenges.
For example, the beam currents will provide relatively sparse data so the team will have to employ a technique called few-view tomography to fill in the gaps. It will also mean that each container will have to be zapped several times. That may not be entirely desirable for certain types of goods such as food and equipment with delicate electronics.
Just how beams of gamma rays and neutrons affect these kinds of goods is something that will have to be determined
Then there is the question of false positives. One advantage of a machine like this is that it has several scanning modes is that if one reveals something suspicious, it can switch to another to look in more detail. That should build up a decent picture of the cargo’s contents and reduce false positives.