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Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy System

INL’s Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy System team develops nondestructive evaluation (NDE) systems for the safe, efficient identification of the world’s most dangerous substances. 

Our technologies identify the following, without need to open the container:

  • Chemical warfare agents, including mustard gas, nerve gas, and phosgene
  • Explosives, like dynamite and TNT
  • Other hazardous chemicals, including titanium tetrachloride and white phosphorus
  • Spent nuclear reactor fuel, inside dry storage casks
  • Uranium, plutonium, and other special nuclear material

The first NDE instrument developed by our team is the Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy System (PINS).  PINS is a field non-destructive evaluation tool to identify the contents of munitions and chemical storage containers safely and reliably. Typical assay times range from 100 to 1000 seconds. PINS employs neutron radiation from a small radioisotopic source as a probe of an item’s fill. The chemical elements inside the item are revealed by their characteristic gamma-ray signature, measured by a high-resolution HPGe spectrometer. The system computer then infers the fill compound or mixture from the elemental data.

PINS reliably identifies these chemical substances:

  • Nerve agents: GA (tabun), GB (sarin), GD (soman), VX
  • Blister agents: HD, HN, HT (mustard gases), L (lewisite)
  • Explosives: Composition B, RDX, TNT, smokeless powder, ANFO
  • Military screening smokes: FM, WP, FS, HC
  • Compressed gases: acetylene, ammonia, arsine, carbon dioxide, chlorine, Freon, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, nitrogen, phosgene, phosphine, R-13 refrigerant, silane
  • Practice fills: water, concrete, sand, plaster-of-Paris

Since 1992, PINS has been used to reliably identify thousands of recovered chemical weapons, stockpile munitions, and other suspect container of hazardous chemicals, all without the need to open or even touch the item under test. PINS has been used at over 40 locations in the United States, and more than fifty PINS systems are in use all over the world.

Our newest NDE instrument is the Compton Dry-Cask Imaging System, for verifying the nuclear reactor spent fuel inventory of 100-ton dry-storage casks. Unlike spent fuel stored underwater, spent fuel in a dry storage cask can’t be visually inspected, due to the megarad/hour radiation fields inside. We have developed an instrument that images the spent fuel inside a cask using the gamma rays emitted by the fission and activation products in spent fuel.

In support of NDE instrument development, the PINS Team computer scientists develop, maintain, and extend gamma-ray spectrum analysis codes, including the Gauss Algorithms, PINS+, and Spex.

Page Contact Information:

Department of energy

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy
DOE-Idaho Office