Phoenix Nuclear Labs develops system to detect hard-to-find explosives

Wisconsin-based company's technology senses the explosive material itself, not the components


July 07--Phoenix Nuclear Labs says it has completed successful preliminary tests on a system that can root out so-called "undetectable explosives."

The Monona company says its neutron-based technology senses the explosive material itself, not the components such as a metal casing or a trigger mechanism.

"We've known for some time that certain types of improvised explosive devices could potentially go undetected through existing scanners that use X-rays," said Ross Radel, Phoenix Nuclear Labs president. "The beauty of our system is that it can detect unconventional explosives, such as homemade explosives, that might not be caught by our existing security infrastructure."

The U.S. Army funded the research, which is based on Phoenix's novel neutron generator technology. Full-scale testing will continue through August and the company said it will advance the technology for future use in the battlefield, and possibly for screening cargo for explosives or other contraband, as well.

"We could have our first full-scale explosives detection system operational in a year or two," Radel said.

But that's just a side project for Phoenix Nuclear Labs. Its main focus is still its core neutron generator. The company is working with scientists at Fermi National Laboratory near Batavia, Illinois, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, on a project that is expected to cost more than $1 billion and run through at least 2020.

The new technology could eventually be used to make medical isotopes, computer chips, and high-voltage power supplies, the company said.

Founded in 2005, Phoenix has 20 full-time employees and 15 part-time. Radel said he expects to hire a few more employees this year and "many more" in 2015.

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