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E. Designing Discriminating Nuclear Detection Instruments

Narrator: T his is Science Today. As part of an ongoing effort to boost national security, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are developing portable gamma-ray sensors to detect nuclear materials. Simon Labov, who heads the lab's Radiation Detection Center, says one of the challenges is pinpointing the source of gamma rays.

Labov: We're developing detectors that are sensitive and discriminating. They have clarity. That's how you know whether or not it's a material of concern, or just an everyday, background material.

Narrator: For example, the ground itself has natural uranium in it. And often times, when people have certain medical treatments or diagnostic procedures performed, they'll be radioactive for a while.

Labov: So, we're developing instruments that will let those go - and say, oh yes, we know what that is. That's an isotope that's very commonly used there and is not a concern for danger or anything like that, so we let it go. But then if someone comes though - obviously with plutonium or something, we say 'Whoa, we want to stop that!' So we need things that have that kind of sensitivity.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.