Nuclear Physics – Landmine detection using neutrons



Ricky Smit, Andy Buffler, and Saalih Allie

According to a recent estimate the number of abandoned landmines in all parts of the world now exceeds 60 million. More than 70 countries are affected, the number of persons killed by these mines each year exceeds 25000 and an even larger number are maimed. Most of the victims are women and children. A large proportion of these casualties are caused by small (< 300 gm) plastic antipersonnel landmines (APL). These APL typically contain extremely little metal and can therefore be difficult to detect by means of the detection techniques most commonly used today, which rely on metal detection. Metal detectors can be made very sensitive in order to detect these landmines. However, they cannot distinguish between landmines and other metal objects that may be buried in the soil. Small metal objects such as shrapnel fragments are often plentifully scattered in mine-affected areas and may outnumber the landmines by a large factor. In such situations the large number “false-positive” responses registered by the metal detector can delay mine-clearing operations significantly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently initiated an international cooperative research programme (CRP) to develop and evaluate alternative nuclear-based technologies for landmine detection. It is hoped that one or more nuclear methods may eventually be combined with other techniques, including metal detection,  to form a multi-sensor detection system that will lead to more efficient detection and clearance of land.