DIY Nuke Detector

Ransom Riggs

if your only source of news is the Daily Show or the occasional CNN bottom-of-screen headline crawl, you're probably aware that

  • terrorists want to kill you, your grandpa and quite possibly your little dog, too,
  • preferably with portable nuclear weapons, smuggled into the US via
  • our extremely vulnerable and barely-monitored shipping ports.

But not to worry: the DHS is on it. In July they announced a plan to equip our major ports with radiation scanners -- but it won't be ready until 2011, and it'll cost around $1.2 billion. According to Wired, the answer to our dirty nuke problems might be a little more home-grown:

"In San Francisco Bay, a group of do-it-yourself volunteer researchers is not waiting for the mushroom cloud. They say they are close to perfecting a portable device that could do much the same thing right now, for total out-of-pocket costs of about $12,000. The group, led by physicist and Sandia Lab weapons subcontractor Stanley Glaros, says it has already built a boat-mounted scanner with off-the-shelf parts that might reliably spot radiation spikes in container ships at sea from a kilometer away. Encouraged, and armed with this background radiation survey to reduce false alarms, the team is now testing a homemade detector based on a 4-inch by 4-inch by 16-inch sodium iodide crystal ... the same technology used in many monitors currently deployed at ports around the country. 'The crystal is like Frodo's sword,' explained a Glaros collaborator. 'It starts to glow when the bad stuff's around, kind of a blue fluorescence.'"

See? Fight evil with crystals that glow blue. No need to get all billion-dollar-y.