Sandia National Laboratories announces project to detect nuclear gases

Sandia National Laboratories, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based multi-program laboratory, announced a project on Wednesday that may help to detect trace amounts of gases that are signs of nuclear proliferation.

Project Neptune is meant to design a system that is able to sense the gaseous evidence of nuclear proliferation from among the more prevalent signals of other gases. Sandia's scientists are combining gas correlation technology with modern computer codes, optical design and modern focal plane arrays to detect the gases.

"The hope is to detect gas early so there's evidence before a nation gets too far along in a proliferation program," Jeff Mercier, Project Neptune's principal investigator, said.

Mercier said the signal the Neptune sensor is seeking would be approximately one photon out of every million.

Sandia said that its gas correlation sensor technology could also fill the important niche of finding suspected leaks in large industrial facilities. Catching leaks early could have significant environmental implications.

"Catching leaks in real time means that we can move away from a mode of punishing industry for accidents after the damage is done, and instead work with them to catch issues before they become problems," Prabal Nandy, Sandia's remote sensing portfolio manager, said. "This means less damage to the environment, more efficient and profitable operations for the company and a healthier environment for all."

Project Neptune received funding under the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Remote Sensing portfolio of the National Nuclear Security Administration's Office of Proliferation Detection.