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Improving detection of nuclear smuggling goal of computer model of mechanical engineer
Date:11/27/2007

A professor at The University of Texas at Austin has received $1.9 million to expand a computer model that is already helping guide national decisions about placement of devices to detect nuclear smuggling attempts.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provided the funds to improve the design of networks of sensors to detect smuggling in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union that have insufficient security for their stores of nuclear weapons material and radioactive material. Nearly 300 nuclear smuggling attempts have been reported to the United Nations from these countries since 1995.

In the past four years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has used the basic nuclear smuggling model developed by Dr. David Morton and former graduate student Feng Pan to help combat this trend by providing guidance for national decisions on radiation detector placement in Russia and nearby countries.

Russias got the biggest border of any country on the planet, making it highly unlikely the country could seal its borders, said Morton. So the real issue becomes: given the limited resources and the fact that radiation detectors can cost upwards of $1 million to set up, can we provide a computer tool that locates the detectors optimally"

The United States has provided more than $100 million to place radiation detectors at Moscows main airport and other sites where smugglers could escape with material for preparing nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. Still, hundreds more potential nuclear smuggling sites in Russia and around the world could use radiation detectors. The computer model seeks to prioritize decisions on sites to outfit based on:

  • routes smugglers typically take to reach buyers willing to pay millions for their stash,
  • nuclear and radioactive materials most likely to be smuggled and
  • methods smugglers will use to conceal their dangerous cargo.

The computer model in use
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Contact: Barbra Rodriguez
brodriguez@mail.utexas.edu
512-471-7541
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert

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