The Swiss start-up tackling radiation threats

Entrepreneurs have helped develop a new system designed to detect radiological threats, which is being tested at ports across Europe. (SRF ECO/

This content was published on October 8, 2014

Monitors hidden inside a van can single out freight containing substances such as uranium, plutonium, or radiological components for "dirty bombs”. These are weapons that combine radioactive material with conventional explosives.

The information gathered allows operators to exclude the possibility of a detected plutonium source being a “ready-to-go” nuclear weapon.

The system is the first of its type in the world to combine fast and thermal neutron detection. The technologies were tested at CERN, the European Laboratory for Nuclear Research near Geneva.

The MODES_SNM project – the result of pan-European research and development –unites specialists from a number of fields, ranging from customs to nuclear physics. It was funded by the European Commission and developed by a consortium that includes Swiss start-up Arktis Radiation Detectors, a spin-off from the federal technology institute ETH Zurich. The company has 15 employees and is based in Zurich.

Arktis Radiation Detectors has sold its system to the United States government and to the UK government-owned Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Swiss Public Television, SRF, traveled to Ireland to see how the system works, and to meet its developers. 

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