A nuclear device has been hidden in a high-rise building in a major metropolitan area. Emergency responders have intelligence that narrows down the location to a single city block, but it isn’t safe to search door-to-door. Can they identify the exact location of the device quickly without the culprits realizing a search is on?
The answer is a definite yes. Sandia National Laboratories’ mobile imager of neutrons for emergency responders (MINER) system did just that at an emergency response exercise in downtown Chicago earlier this year. The exercise used a sealed laboratory radiation source that mimics the radioactive signature of more nefarious material.
“The system performed exactly as we expected,” said Sandia physicist John Goldsmith. “With an unshielded source, we pinpointed the location within 30 minutes. With more shielding, it took a couple of hours.”
MINER is a portable version of the neutron scatter camera, which detects fast neutrons that emanate from special nuclear material to pinpoint the source, even at significant distances and through shielding.