Understanding radiation with new detector

An inexpensive portable radiation detection device could help people better understand the radiation around them and whether or not it poses a health risk.

By Gregory Hale, ISSSource August 25, 2014

A small portable radiation detection device was developed by nuclear engineers at Oregon State University following the nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, when residents were unsure what level of radiation they were suffering and whether their homes, food, environment and drinking water were safe. Devices that could provide that type of information were costly and not readily available to the general public, and experts realized there was a demand for improved systems that could provide convenient, accurate information at a low cost. The new system should eventually be available for less than $150.

Beyond the extremely rare occasion of a radiological or nuclear incident, the new technology may also help users learn more about the world of radiation surrounding us, the constant exposure they receive — everything from a concrete wall to the air we breathe, soils around us or a granite kitchen counter top — and how to understand routine radiation exposure as a part of normal life.

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.

Various models may end up developed for different needs, researchers said, one of which might be the ability to measure radon gas and check homes with possible concerns for that type of radiation exposure, which can sometimes come from soils, rocks, concrete walls or foundations.

Gregory Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (ISSSource.com), a news and information website covering safety and security issues in the manufacturing automation sector. This content originally appeared on the ISSSource website. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media, jchang@cfemedia.com