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Predicting Concrete Roadway Contribution to Gamma-Ray Background in Radiation Portal Monitor Systems

Christopher M. Ryan, Craig M. Marianno, William S. Charlton, Alexander A. Solodov, Ronald J. Livesay, Braden Goddard

Nuclear Technology / Volume 186 / Number 3 / June 2014 / Pages 415-426

Technical Paper / Radiation Transport and Protection / dx.doi.org/10.13182/NT13-98

The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in an era of interest in the security of the radiological and nuclear material holdings of the Russian Federation and other countries of the Former Soviet Union. Additionally, the increasing sophistication of international criminal and terrorist organizations highlighted the need to secure these materials and prevent them from being smuggled from their point of origin and across international boundaries. To combat the growing threat of radiological and nuclear smuggling, radiation portal monitors (RPMs) are deployed at ports of entry (POEs) around the world to passively detect gamma and neutron radiation signatures from cargo and pedestrian traffic. In some locations, RPMs are reporting abnormally high gamma-ray background count rates, a situation that has been attributed, in part, to the building materials surrounding the RPMs. The primary objective of this work was to determine the impact of different types of concrete on the gamma-ray background readings in a particular RPM. Secondary objectives include developing an adaptable model to estimate the gamma-ray background contribution from any composition of concrete in any RPM configuration and determining the elemental composition of different concrete samples through neutron activation analysis (NAA) techniques. The specific activities of 40K and isotopes from the 238U and 232Th decay series were determined with a high-purity germanium detector and computer-generated calibration files. Through NAA, 34 elemental compositions were determined for six concrete samples from three different parent slabs. The total weight percentages determined were 84% to 100% of the total mass of the samples. The Monte Carlo N-Particle (MCNP) transport code was used to simulate the RPM response to the different concrete slabs. The MCNP model was validated by comparing actual and simulated detector responses to 137Cs check sources of varying strengths. For all validation cases, the MCNP estimates were 6% to 16% less than the value obtained from the actual RPM data. This work shows that it is possible to estimate the gamma-ray response of an RPM to the underlying concrete roadway. Knowing the amount of this contribution will allow RPM customers to choose suitable foundation materials before installation and accurately set alarm thresholds. This could ultimately increase the ability of RPMs to detect radiation at POEs, thereby increasing the probability of a seizure of smuggled radiological and nuclear materials.

 
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