- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

X-RAY VISION — FOR REAL

Fissile material is what you call material suitable for a fission reaction — in other words stuff to make a bomb.

There are enough statistics, as in, "where DID that fissile material go?" to suggest that some of this stuff is being stolen and black-marketed. The border patrols and other authorities have the task of preventing such material from getting into the country they are guarding.

Part of that duty includes screening for fissile stuff stashed in cargo. Does that mean you could pack fissile stuff away in lead and get it past the guards? Well, maybe in the past, but not anymore. Well, almost not anymore. The new hardware is within about a year of deployment.

There's a new gizmo that actually sends high-energy X-rays toward any truck, car, boat, shipping container, hamster cage or whatever is being examined. It can penetrate metals and common shielding materials, such as lead, easily. If the X-rays hit uranium or plutonium (the fissile stuff) they induce little fission reactions, which in turn do a bit of nuclei bashing.

Quite an idea, this. The mini-nuclear reactions send a great many neutrons leaving the scene of the crime. When they do, they pass right through the shielding and can be detected.

Bottom line: If you have neutrons coming out of your trunk, you must have fissile materials inside your trunk. This is sort of a ferreting out process, rather than an inspection process, but the developers and potential buyers agree that anything to take the sizzle out of fissile would be a good thing to have in this day and age.

(Comments? Questions? Send them to ideas@gizmorama.org)




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