To counter the continuing threat of nuclear-fueled explosives, such as dirty bombs, sophisticated detection methods are required. Historically, the Department of Defense and other agencies used Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM). The supply of He-3, an extremely rare non-naturally occurring substance, is rapidly drying up. To address the critical need for a means to detect neutrons that does not rely on He-3, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop enhancements to a replacement technology.
Alion, a global engineering, R&D, IT and operational solutions company, will support DTRA by developing new methods to use an advanced detection system that uses boron-coated "straws" - literally bundles of thin copper tubes with a coating of boron, an abundant element.
Current He-3 detectors are omnidirectional, so they can only alert users to the presence of neutrons. Under the contract, Alion will develop methods to make the boron-coated straw detector directional, so that a search team can pinpoint the location of the source of neutrons and thus react to threats more effectively.
Alion engineers also will research how to increase the detector’s efficiency by exploring new straw geometries and will focus on miniaturizing and speeding up the electronics. Additionally, Alion will review various manufacturing technologies to reduce the technology’s overall production costs.
"By researching the means to make the boron-coated straw detector more precise and more reasonable to produce, Alion can help DTRA employ improved technologies to mitigate threats effectively and keep warfighters and citizens safe," said Terri Spoonhour, Alion Senior Vice President and Distributed Simulation Group Manager. "But, beyond providing a drop-in replacement for He-3 detector components, this engineering effort opens up a number of possibilities for new or enhanced portable systems that can be carried into questionable areas or permanently installed to protect ports and depots."
Source: Alion Science and Technology Corp.
Date: May 29, 2014