Citizen covers built-at-Carleton CRIPT detector

Friday, April 26, 2013


Carleton University builds new detector for nuclear materials

john-armitageCarleton University physicist John Armitage stands in front of the cosmic ray inspection and passive tomography (CRIPT) system unveiled Friday at the university.

Photograph by: James Park , Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Carleton University has unveiled a new machine that will “see” inside heavy containers or old waste to detect materials such as uranium and plutonium.

The $1.5-million detector, standing 5.3 metres high on heavy steel supports, will soon be broken down and shipped to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. at Chalk River.

It uses muons — tiny, high-energy particles that come shooting from space all the time. Muons pass harmlessly through our bodies and even through dense materials like steel.

By detecting how muons scatter when they hit different types of materials, the machine can determine what’s inside containers such as heavy steel boxes that conventional scanning with X-rays or even gamma rays can’t penetrate.

It does not produce muons, but uses the natural particles arriving from space. A person who holds out one hand will have a muon go through it about once per second.

AECL is expected to use it to examine old uranium fuel that has to be stored and inventoried periodically.

Carleton physicist John Armitage of said the university built on its experience in creating detectors of other high-energy particles for CERN, the European particle physics lab. CERN is best known for its hunt for the Higgs boson.

The technology can also be used to inspect for smuggled uranium or plutonium. It might also detect potentially harmful solar flares with more advance warning than current equipment, though this is not yet proven.

The technique is called cosmic ray inspection and passive tomography.

Partners included AECL, Defence Research and Development Canada, Health Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, International Safety Research of Ottawa and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions of Vancouver.

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