Widespread use and concealment of explosives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by terrorists and criminals internationally, along with the vast shipment of illegal drugs, are all putting huge pressures on security screening personnel and screening technologies, in the drive to keep pace with an ever-increasing number of threats.
But how can those who sit on the frontline, constantly screening for such dangers, familiarise themselves sufficiently to handle that challenge, other than in the actual ‘heat of battle’? Renful is one company whose solutions are designed to answer that question, it states, with its simulants and training devices used by security trainers at airports, cargo and mail handling organisations, police forces, military establishments, customs, embassies and other high-security facilities.
“It isn’t possible for security personnel to recognise and identify dangerous and restricted items without already being familiar with factors such as their shapes, textures, weights, densities, and other marking features and characteristics,” says Moshe Cohen, owner, Renful. “Threat familiarisation and detection training is a necessity for all security personnel, and the need for better simulants becomes more critical as the terrorist/criminal threat increases and the reliability of equipment, and skill of operators to identify these dangerous/prohibited substances, becomes paramount.”
Over the past few years, Renful’s Simfox 2D Baggage solution, for instance, (pictured at right) has been successfully implemented by airports and cargo forwarders throughout Europe, in order to meet the (EU) No 2015/1998 regulations that require screeners to take six hours of X-ray simulation training over six months. After each X-ray simulator session, users are then directed to a screen where they can review every bag they have taken, isolate all items within them and review their contents. “This ensures screeners can quickly and easily learn from their mistakes without the immediate assistance of a trainer,” adds Cohen. Each session review is timed and makes up part of the training; both X-rays and photos of all items within each bag in the session can be examined; and session results are saved in the system for later reviews and inclusion into reports.
Renful has also launched the Simfox Container System, which enables trainers to create customised shipping containers by simply selecting an item or items from the image library and placing them into one of the full or empty containers. The image library is expandable: the system allows users to upload their own images of either empty or full containers and cargo items into the database, creating a unique image library. Meanwhile, Renful’s AI solution EyeFox acts as a “second set of eyes” for X-ray security screening operators. “By leveraging leading expertise in advanced artificial intelligence and computer vision technology, EyeFox sees what can’t always be seen – whether it’s a firearm, knife, hand grenade or many other threat items – then flags and tags it on a dedicated monitor,” he explains. “Our algorithm is trained and tested on actual threat data, using the largest data set worldwide, made up of millions of common threat objects. The more data we aggregate globally, the smarter the solution becomes.”
There is another factor at play here as well, of course. Not only does a security X-ray screener need to correctly identify well-concealed threat objects as they rapidly move past on a screen: he/she also needs to have the right ‘mental make-up’ and acuity to handle such a high-intensity, high-stakes job in the first place. “This requires a skill-set that is difficult to assess in a normal interview,” points out Cohen. “Our technology assists employers in selecting the most suitable applicants through a series of interactive tests, ensuring candidates have the ability to rotate objects in their mind, in order to recognise them.”
While there are many critical situations where simulants play a crucial role, none could be more hazardous to deal with than the radioactive debris remaining at the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear power plants. Now, new simulations have been developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield that could provide a huge boost to the clean-up operation.
As far as Fukushima is concerned, a ‘fake version’ of the extremely radioactive fuel debris inside its damaged reactors has been created by a team of researchers led by Professor Claire Corkhill (pictured) from the university’s department of materials science and engineering, in collaboration with Swiss Light Source. The simulant material can be used by officials to learn more about the chemical makeup and mechanical properties of the debris for the first time and help them to design safe strategies for its removal.
Removal and safe storage of the radioactive debris that remains in its three reactors is thought to be one of the biggest challenges in the decommissioning process. As long as it stays there, the fuel material requires cooling, generating millions of cubic metres of radioactive water.
With the debris being so highly radioactive, it is too dangerous for humans and even some robots to get close. This has meant very little is known about its chemical make-up, slowing down the clean-up operation and allowing more contaminated water to accumulate.
A robotic survey of the debris in reactor one has now been launched by the Tokyo Electric Power Company and, together with the new simulant material developed by the Sheffield researchers, could be used to better understand the debris left behind by the disaster.
“Using what is known about the materials within the Fukushima reactors – for example, the fuel, cladding and concrete type – we were able to develop a recipe for the fuel debris,” says Corkhill, chair in nuclear material degradation at the University of Sheffield. “We heated it to the extremely high temperatures experienced during the accident, producing a low-radioactivity version of what we think the fuel debris is really like. In actual fact, it is not too dissimilar from the material generated during the Chernobyl accident. Investigating this material with extremely bright microscopes has allowed us to understand the potential distribution of plutonium within the fuel, which is of utmost importance to the retrieval operations.” The simulant material has been developed as part of a government- funded project, in collaboration with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, through the UK-Japan civil nuclear partnership research scheme.
Last year, it was revealed that another simulant developed the Sheffield researchers that could help to clean up the Chernobyl nuclear accident. For the first time, a simulant had been created of the lava-like fuel containing materials (LFCMs) that are obstructing decommissioning efforts there.