A highly sophisticated, inexpensive, portable, radiation-detection device designed for public use was recently developed by nuclear engineers at Oregon State University.
The new device was created, partly, in response to broad public calls for just such a device following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. While there were already devices out there that could provide detailed information on radiation levels in drinking water, food, etc, most of these were/are quite expensive and not easily obtainable by members of the general public.
Enter, the new detector, which should eventually be available for less than $150 dollars. According to the designers, it will “help people all over the world better understand the radiation around them, its type and intensity, and whether or not it poses a health risk.”
“With a device such as this, people will be better able to understand and examine the environment in which they live,” explained Abi Farsoni, an associate professor of nuclear engineering in the OSU College of Engineering. “Radiation is a natural part of our lives that many people don’t understand, but in some cases there’s also a need to measure it accurately in case something could be a health concern. This technology will accomplish both those goals.”
The press release from Oregon State University provides more:
Of some interest, is that the technology being used in the new device provides measurements of radiation that are not only less expensive but also more efficient and accurate than many existing technologies that cost far more. Because of that, the system may find use not just by consumers but in laboratories and industries around the world that deal with radioactive material. This could include scientific research, medical treatments, emergency response, nuclear power plants or industrial needs.
The system is a miniaturized gamma ray spectrometer, which means it can measure not only the intensity of radiation but also identify the type of radionuclide that is creating it. Such a system is far more sophisticated than old-fashioned “Geiger counters” that provide only minimal information about the presence and level of radioactivity.
The system combines digital electronics with a fairly new type of “scintillation detector” that gives it the virtues of small size, durability, operation at room temperature, good energy resolution, low power consumption and light weight, while being able to measure radiation levels and identify the radionuclides producing them.
Image Credit: Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant via Wikimedia Commons
“The incident at Fukushima made us realize that many people wanted, but were not able to afford, a simple technology to tell them if their environment, food or water was safe,” Farsoni noted. “This portable system, smaller than a golf ball, can do that, and it will also have wireless connectivity so it could be used remotely, or connected to the Internet.”
The researchers are considering the possibility of developing various different models, best-suited for different needs, they’ve said. As an example, perhaps one designed specifically to measure radon gas exposure — a relatively common form of radiation exposure, owing to its presence in some solids, rocks, and concretes.
“There are a lot of misconceptions by many people about radioactivity and natural background radiation, and technology of this type may help address some of those issues,” Farsoni continued. “Sometimes, there are also real concerns, and the device will be able to identify them. And of some importance to us, we want the technology to be very simple and affordable so anyone can obtain and use it.”
The new device will be commercialized after further fine-tuning of the technology is completed, the researchers say.
The new technology is detailed in a paper published in the journal Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research.
While on the subject… A new leak has been found in the fifth reactor unit at Fukushima 1. This is well worth noting because, in addition to the fact that we are talking about a leak at a nuclear power plant, the fifth reactor is not one of the four originally wrecked in the 2011 tsunami.
In other words, the problem at the plant just keeps getting worse and worse, and bigger and bigger…
Perhaps we will all be needing something like this in the near-future? Certainly hope not.