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Detecting Illicit Nuclear Materials

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Figure 1. Might terrorists be able to steal or build a nuclear weapon...Click to Enlarge Image

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the threat that the wrong people might acquire dangerous nuclear materials has loomed large. This menace became that much more frightening after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Authorities in the United States and Europe have been working to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials that would allow them to fabricate a nuclear weapon or even a so-called dirty bomb, one that dispersed radioactive debris over a wide area. A major component of this effort involves outfitting shipping ports and other border crossings in the United States and overseas with equipment that can detect the telltale radiation that nuclear materials give off. The author outlines the many-layered program the United States in now undertaking and describes some of the technical challenges involved.

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