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Nuclear Material Detection and Characterization

The Nuclear Material Detection and Characterization (NMDC) Group performs research and development in advanced radiation detection instrumentation and measurement techniques, with an emphasis on the detection and characterization of special nuclear materials for national and homeland security organizations. This includes

  • basic detection materials research
  • modeling and simulation
  • instrument design and development
  • laboratory and field measurements
  • user interactions
  • equipment evaluations
  • subject matter expert technical support to multiple government agencies

The group’s research previously focused on the detection and characterization of radioactive materials in known locations, primarily for applications in arms control, treaty verification, and safeguards. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, research has expanded to include locations where there should be no radioactive materials present, such as airports, border crossings, buildings, seaports, and roadsides for counterterrorism and homeland security applications.

The NMDC Group has five core areas.

Fast Time-Correlation Measurements: A key capability of the group is the correlation of multiple detector signals on a nanosecond time scale. The Nuclear Material Identification System evolved from a template matching system for verification of the configuration of contents of containers to a tomographic imaging system for a wide range of applications.

Active Interrogation of Fissile Materials: Uranium—which is fissile but not highly radioactive—is difficult to detect. Active interrogation can often overcome this limitation. The NMDC Group frequently uses active interrogation in combination with fast time-correlation to perform neutron radiography without bulky or heavy collimators.

Neutron and Gamma-Ray Imaging Techniques and Systems: The group is a national leader in neutron and gamma-ray imaging and has constructed multiple innovative systems. For example, the Roadside Tracker combines gamma imaging with target tracking in visible light images to detect radiation sources in vehicles moving at highway speeds across multiple lanes.

Radiation Detection Material Research and Development: The group works with the Materials Science and Technology Division through the Center for Radiation Detection Materials and Systems to develop and evaluate new radiation detection materials to provide improved tools for challenging national security missions.

Operations, Testing, and Evaluations: The group regularly supplies subject matter expertise to multiple government agencies, including technical leadership on data analysis from deployed systems and on new equipment operational testing and evaluation campaigns.