Current and Prospective Radiation Detection Systems, Screening Infrastructure and Interpretive Algorithms for the Non-Intrusive Screening of Shipping Container Cargo: A Review

Euan L Connolly*, Peter George Martin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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The non-intrusive screening of shipping containers at national borders serves as a prominent and vital component in deterring and detecting the illicit transportation of radioactive and/or nuclear materials which could be used for malicious and highly damaging purposes. Screening systems for this purpose must be designed to efficiently detect and identify material that could be used to fabricate radiological dispersal or improvised nuclear explosive devices, while having minimal impact on the flow of cargo and also being affordable for widespread implementation. As part of current screening systems, shipping containers, offloaded from increasingly large cargo ships, are driven through radiation portal monitors comprising plastic scintillators for gamma detection and separate, typically 3He-based, neutron detectors. Such polyvinyl-toluene plastic-based scintillators enable screening systems to meet detection sensitivity standards owing to their economical manufacturing in large sizes, producing high-geometric-efficiency detectors. However, their poor energy resolution fundamentally limits the screening system to making binary “source” or “no source” decisions. To surpass the current capabilities, future generations of shipping container screening systems should be capable of rapid radionuclide identification, activity estimation and source localisation, without inhibiting container transportation. This review considers the physical properties of screening systems (including detector materials, sizes and positions) as well as the data collection and processing algorithms they employ to identify illicit radioactive or nuclear materials. The future aim is to surpass the current capabilities by developing advanced screening systems capable of characterising radioactive or nuclear materials that may be concealed within shipping containers
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-280
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Nuclear Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2021


  • nuclear
  • proliferation
  • RDD
  • INED
  • radiation
  • infrastructure
  • monitoring
  • security
  • ports
  • material smuggling

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