Neutron Based Techniques for the Detection of Illicit Materials and Explosives

IAEA Second Research Co-ordination Meeting

Mumbai, India, 12-16 November 2007


Meeting Summary

The group of Delegates presented the activities approved by IAEA for participation to the CRP. The following points emerged from the presentations and discussions.

  • The overall progress in this CRP has been satisfactory as evident in the individual reports which appear later in this document. Project development has been varied with some nearing commercial implementations and others impeded in part due to technical difficulties.
  • It was noted that the groups generally divided up into those which had worked on complete systems, and those which had essentially worked on components. Further it was noted that component development not only could contribute to this CRP but would also have potential applications in other areas of IAEA interest, e.g., non-proliferation.  Additionally the developers of cargo scanning systems were all from groups which had a substantial amount of funding aside from the IAEA.
  • In order to assess the state of development of the various projects it was decided that a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) be applied to each project. TRLs are common in many technology development programs such as both the UK and US Defense Departments; the US DoD levels definitions ranging from 1 to 9 (1 is the lowest and 9 the highest readiness level) were used here.  The individual project leaders assigned a level with the consensus of the group.  Most projects were self assessed at TRL 3 (Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept) and a few of the larger, well funded projects at TRL 7 (System prototype demonstration in an operational environment) and above.
  • It was agreed that for successful application of neutron based techniques, it will be necessary to show that there are useful tasks for which neutrons are demonstrably better than existing conventional systems.  It was also noted that full familiarity with the current status of technology in such areas as x-ray imaging and explosive detection is crucial for such a comparison.
  • It was recognized, as before, that neutron based technologies may not represent the first level inspection, but rather a second level target-specific system which follows e.g., x-ray inspection. Detection of special nuclear materials (SNM) remains a potential exception. The advantage of using neutrons for elemental identification remains a powerful argument for their use, particularly in such areas as identification of explosives and SNM where they may indeed be the only viable approach.
  • We continued to emphasize the importance of a strong connection between the research groups with their country authorities and with other groups in order to fulfil two fundamental requirements:
      • to adapt the technology under investigation to the real needs of security inspections for a given Member State;
      • to take into account both the specific legislation and the public acceptance of a neutron based system in a given Member State.
  • To encourage collaboration, a web-based system has been established ( to facilitate exchanges of information between participants of this CRP.
  • Several areas of common interest have been identified such as:
      • plasma based techniques for the production of neutrons;
      • development of new sources based on compact particle accelerators;
      • techniques based on neutron radiography;
      • associated particle imaging;
      • fast neutron scattering analysis;
      • portable and low cost systems which may use radioisotope source.
  • It was pointed out the importance of realistic modelling early in the project using such tools as MCNP and GEANT and sustained collaborations on simulation codes and computer calculation models. 
  • Spectral analysis is an important component for elemental analysis using neutron detection techniques. The need for sharing spectral analysis tools was emphasised.
    It was felt that end-users software development aimed at data presentation and decision making remains a neglected part of most projects but this is explained by the early stages of development, concentrating on individual components.
  • Further investigations of neutron methods should foresee a possible integration within more complete systems including non-nuclear methods. This integration may aid in automatic detection of threat materials. Some groups are already working in this direction.