Local lab makes nuclear breakthrough

February 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
More high tech anti-terrorist gear is on its way to California this summer. The Lawrence Livermore Lab has won a national award for its development of a portable neutron detector that can warn of the illegal transport of plutonium or uranium -- in other words, it detects nukes.

"That's it's sole purpose, to detect if someone is illicitly shipping around nuclear material," says Dan Dietrich, Radiation Physicist.

The lead physicist of this Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory radiation team showed off this new portable neutron detector--- at 50 pounds and $100,000 dollars, it's a third the price and half the size of its predecessor.

It makes it usable by customs and FBI checkpoints, government buildings, airports and military bases.

"This is the first neutron detector that can detect differences between fissile and non-fissile material in real time--- it can do it right away. And the second thing is it's going to speed up inspections so we can keep commerce moving but we can do it in a manner we know is safe and there won't be nuclear material getting through," says Steve Wampler, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The device will also be used aboard ships at sea to determine if plutonium or uranium are present as inspectors pass containers. A normal neutron count at sea level is 4. In their lab, a count of 17 was detected near a locker storing radioactive material. These units can be bought off the shelf and operated with ease by national emergency response teams.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory won a federal award for this device.

"One of the key features is that it's battery operated! Responders out in the field can go to the local Radio Shack and get batteries for it," says

The portable neutron detector is already in use on the east coast and it will become part of national security on the west coast this summer.