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New detector could speed nuclear cleanup

Dec. 30, 2010 at 6:24 PM   |   Comments

CORVALLIS, Ore., Dec. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've developed a radiation detecting and measuring device that promises faster and cheaper cleanup of radioactively contaminated sites.

Scientists at Oregon State University say hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on cleanup of major sites contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the historic production of nuclear weapons during and after World War II. These include the Hanford site in Washington, Savannah River site in South Carolina, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The new detector is quicker and more accurate than previous measuring devices, an OSU release said Thursday.

"Unlike other detectors, this spectrometer is more efficient, and able to measure and quantify both gamma and beta radiation at the same time," David Hamby, an OSU professor of health physics, said. "Before this two different types of detectors and other chemical tests were needed in a time-consuming process.

"This system will be able to provide accurate results in 15 minutes that previously might have taken half a day," Hamby said. "That saves steps, time and money.

"Cleaning up radioactive contamination is something we can do, but the process is costly, and often the question when working in the field is how clean is clean enough," Hamby said. "At some point the remaining level of radioactivity is not a concern. So we need the ability to do frequent and accurate testing to protect the environment while also controlling costs."

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