Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Seeing Through Steel: New Technology Identifies Chemical Weapons

Date:
October 16, 1998
Source:
Idaho National E & E Laboratory
Summary:
After a war, people try to forget. Soldiers go home, commanders retire, records get lost. Sometimes, unused ammunitions are left behind -- rusting, buried and forgotten. When such warheads are uncovered years later, the Army calls in scientists to help.

After a war, people try to forget. Soldiers go home, commanders retire, records get lost. Sometimes, unused ammunitions are left behind -- rusting, buried and forgotten. When such warheads are uncovered years later, the Army calls in scientists from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL).

In 1988, people in the Solomon Islands discovered rusty, World War II-era U.S. artillery projectiles. The markings on the steel casings were eroded and illegible. No one knew what was in them, but something inside sloshed. A team of explosives experts realized they were dealing with chemical weapons.

The U.S. Army boxed up the munitions in airtight containers and shipped them to nearby Johnston Atoll. The 600-acre coral island, 800 miles southwest of Hawaii, has served the U.S. military since World War II as an airbase and a place to store chemical weapons.

INEEL nuclear physicist Gus Caffrey has developed a system for evaluating what's inside a projectile -- without opening it up. Caffrey and three INEEL colleagues, Don Verrill, Alan Snyder, and Brian Harlow, flew out to Johnston Atoll late this summer to assess the recovered weapons.

On Johnston Atoll, the military operates an incinerator specifically designed to destroy chemical weapons. Before a weapon can be fed into the furnace, however, the operators must know what it contains. If a warhead contained explosives rather than chemical weapons, it could destroy the incinerator. Furthermore, the incinerator operators must know what kind of chemical weapon agent is being disposed of (such as mustard gas, a nerve gas, or an arsenic compound), in order to install the correct monitors on the incinerator's filter system to check for breakdown products.

Caffrey and his colleagues tested the warheads discovered on the Solomon Islands in two ways. First, they X-rayed them with a portable, fast, digitized prototype system that they developed recently. Chemical weapon projectiles contain a distinctive blasting tube down their centers, which can be seen in an X-ray.

Second, the team used a system they developed called PINS (for Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy) to find out which kind of chemical agent filled the projectile cavities. The PINS system shoots a beam of neutrons into the projectile. The neutrons bounce into the elements that make up the chemical weapon agent, and the interaction produces gamma rays. The gamma rays are recorded as they pass back through the projectile's steel casing.

Each type of warhead fill is made up of a different set of elements. Explosives contain a lot of nitrogen; nerve gases are composed partly of phosphorus, and mustard gas is chlorine-based. When assessed with PINS, each type of weapon emits a signature pattern of gamma rays. A computer program compares the pattern to a library of chemical weapons and determines what the projectiles are filled with.

The team concluded that 75% of the Solomon Island projectiles contained mustard gas. The rest were empty or contained mustard gas breakdown products.

PINS technology is needed surprisingly often. "The Army digs up old rusty munitions all the time," said Caffrey. Such weapons may have been lost or buried, their markings may have rusted away, or their records lost. PINS can tell what is in the weapons -- and therefore how to dispose of them safely.

The team's next goal is to make a PINS prototype that is smaller and cheaper than the current model. The technology could be used by law enforcement or fire departments to detect hazardous materials, for example in drug labs or traffic accidents.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Idaho National E & E Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Idaho National E & E Laboratory. "Seeing Through Steel: New Technology Identifies Chemical Weapons." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981016074620.htm>.
Idaho National E & E Laboratory. (1998, October 16). Seeing Through Steel: New Technology Identifies Chemical Weapons. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981016074620.htm
Idaho National E & E Laboratory. "Seeing Through Steel: New Technology Identifies Chemical Weapons." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981016074620.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways

AP (July 30, 2014) British officials said on Wednesday that driverless cars will be tested on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program set to begin in January. Officials said the tests will last up to three years. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
7 Ways to Use Toothpaste: Howdini Hacks

7 Ways to Use Toothpaste: Howdini Hacks

Howdini (July 30, 2014) Fresh breath and clean teeth are great, but have you ever thought, "my toothpaste could be doing more". Well, it can! Lots of things! Howdini has 7 new uses for this household staple. Video provided by Howdini
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

AP (July 30, 2014) A ruptured 93-year-old water main left the UCLA campus awash in 8 million gallons of water in the middle of California's worst drought in decades. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow

AP (July 30, 2014) Smartphone powered paper airplane that was popular on crowdfunding website KickStarter makes its debut at Wisconsin airshow (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins