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C.M. Ryan, "Determining the Impact of Concrete Roadways on Gamma Ray Background Readings for Radiation Portal Monitoring Systems," M.S. Thesis, Nuclear Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX (2011).


The dissolution of the Soviet Union coupled with the growing sophistication of international terror organizations has brought about a desire to ensure that a sound infrastructure exists to interdict smuggled nuclear material prior to leaving its country of origin. To combat the threat of nuclear trafficking, radiation portal monitors (RPMs) are deployed around the world to intercept illicit material while in transit by passively detecting gamma and neutron radiation. Portal monitors in some locations have reported abnormally high gamma background count rates. The higher background data has been attributed, in part, to the concrete surrounding the portal monitors. Higher background can ultimately lead to more material passing through the RPMs undetected. This work is focused on understanding the influence of the concrete surrounding the monitors on the total gamma ray background for the system. This research employed a combination of destructive and nondestructive analytical techniques with computer simulations to form a model that may be adapted to any RPM configuration. Six samples were taken from three different composition concrete slabs. The natural radiologcal background of these samples was determined using a high-purity germanium (HPGe) detector in conjunction with the Canberra In-Situ Object Counting System (ISOCS™) and Genie™ 2000 software packages. The composition of each sample was determined using thermal and fast neutron activation analysis (NAA) techniques. The results from these experiments were incorporated into a Monte Carlo N-Particle (MNCP) photon transport simulation to determine the expected gamma ray count rate in the RPM due to the concrete. The results indicate that a quantitative estimate may be possible if the experimental conditions are optimized to eliminate sources of uncertainty. Comparisons of actual and simulated count rate data for 137Cs check sources showed that the model was accurate to within 15%. A comparison of estimated and simulated count rates in one concrete slab showed that the model was accurate to within 4%. Subsequent sensitivity analysis showed that if the elemental concentrations are well known, the carbon and hydrogen content could be easily estimated. Another sensitivity analysis revealed that the small fluctuations in density have a minimal impact on the gamma count rate. The research described by this thesis provides a method by which RPM end users may quantitatively estimate the expected gamma background from concrete foundations beneath the systems. This allows customers to adjust alarm thresholds to compensate for the elevated background due to the concrete, thereby increasing the probability of intercepting illicit radiological and nuclear material.

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Associated Project(s):

  • Measurement and Modeling of Shielding and Attenuation Effects on Radiation Portal Monitors
  • SHIELD (Smuggled HEU Interdiction through Enhanced anaLysis and Detection): A Framework for Developing Novel Detection Systems Focused on Interdicting Shielded HEU

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