FUNDAMENTALLY NEW BOMB DETECTION EQUIPMENT BUILT IN ST. PETERSBURG
A fundamentally new bomb detection system has been built in St. Petersburg. It?s capable of detecting a bomb in no time even if it?s placed in a sealed container. All other bomb detection systems are just useless in such a case. The equipment can be installed at the airports, railroad stations or at the entrances of movie theaters and subways. The specialists at the Krylov Central Research Institute?s nuclear power engineering division in collaboration with their colleagues the RATEK Research and Technology Center are now ready to launch batch production of the equipment and its modifications capable of detecting the so-called ?suicide bombers? belts? i.e. explosives strapped around the waist. However, the Russian security agencies haven?t yet clearly indicated that they?d commission the new bomb detection equipment. The Americans displayed interest instead.
The device is capable of detecting a 5 kg TNT package in a second. It will take around a minute to detect a 100 g explosive charge. A prototype dubbed CDS-1 (Combined Detection System) was built at the nuclear power engineering division of the Krylov Central Research Institute based in St. Petersburg. It weighs 2 tons, it?s 2 meters wide and 1.3 meters high. Andrei Laikin, senior designer of CDS-1, told Izvestia that the system?s mode of functioning is based on the neutron analysis of a substance. The analyzer enables to identify the chemical makeup of an object under examination. For example, an explosive has a high nitrogen content so the device looks for nitrogen and warns the personnel if data turns alarming.
?The method has been available for quite awhile but nobody knew how to put it to use,? says Laikin. ?We?re the only ones who came up with the right technology.?
The Russian detector of explosive materials sparked a huge interest in the West. The equipment is currently being tested by the U.S. Agency of Transportation Security. According to Yakov Levin, the first stage of tests has been successfully completed at the Livermore National Laboratory in California. The Americans would like to launch the manufacture of the equipment for their own needs in some third country if testing is finally deemed a success. The Russian specialists also established very close cooperation with the Israeli specialists in security.
In the meantime, the first regular passenger bus equipped with a new system for the prevention of terrorist attacks has started cruising around Jerusalem. The equipment is made in Israel. Thus far the Ministry of Transportation of Israel has had 5 buses equipped with the new system. Two versions of the equipment to prevent suicide attacks were installed in the buses. One is a network of sensors capable of detecting the presence of explosives; its estimated cost is $20 thousand. The other one is a ?basic package? comprising the turnstiles at a bus? entrances; its estimated cost is $2 thousand. A metal turnstile located at the front door is controlled by a driver. A driver?s cab has a detector capable of detecting explosives at a distance up to one meter. In case of a threat, a driver will be able to block the entryway and leave a potential suicide bomber outside the vehicle. The designers of the system believe it can significantly curtail the threat of terrorist attacks.
?There?re the so-called ?sniffing noses? installed in the passenger compartments of the Israeli buses?, says Levin. ?One can easily fool these devices by using pretty simple techniques. I won?t reveal the techniques lest the terrorists take advantage of them.?
The estimated cost of the Russian equipment is much higher, in the neighborhood of $180 thousand. Speaking of costly equipment, we can give you another price idea. The cost of tomographic machines used for screening luggage at the U.S. airports is around $1.5 million per unit, though the equipment isn?t 100 percent reliable for the detection of explosives. Until recently no bomb detection equipment with a 100 percent accuracy rate has been available anywhere in the world. The specialists from RATEK told us how they were ?playing with? TNT for experimentation purposes in order to deceive the ?electronic noses? installed in most Russian airports. The dogs trained to sniff for explosives can be fooled even easier. The X-ray and TV equipment used for screening people and belongings at the airports and government offices is also notoriously easy to deceive. It?s impossible to spot a bomb disguised as a piece of radio and electronic equipment or computer by using that kind of equipment.
Today the specialists are working to improve the design. The Krylov Center has produced a few prototypes suitable for office use; they can be easily moved around by minibus and installed as required e.g. at a sports arena or a subway station. RATEK designed a machine for security procedures in the airports. One unit was mounted at Pulkovo airport on the eve of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. According to Yakov Levin, the FSB (Federal Security Service) and FSO (security agency providing protection to governmental officials) specialists ?commented favorably? on the machine. The equipment was also shown to the deputies of Boris Gryzlov who was the Interior Minister back then. ?The Interior Ministry officials haven?t made it clear yet whether they need it or not. The talks are still going on,? says Levin. Both the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service declined to comment. Speaking off the record, the security officials say that the equipment can be useful for combating terrorism. But they also admit that they don?t have the money to purchase it in lots. The machine installed in Pulkovo is still the only one in Russia. The second order was placed by one of the Moscow airports. No more orders have been made so far.
Competition is tough on the security equipment market. The researchers in St. Petersburg have begun developing a new bomb detection device to keep the shop running. They?re working to produce equipment capable of detecting a ?suicide bomber?s belt?. No foreign company has yet developed any effective equipment for detecting explosives attached to a human body. ?We have the right concept. But we don?t know where we can get funds to get it off the ground,? say the researchers. Once funding is arranged, a sample detector may be developed in 18 months.
In other words, the implementation of security arrangements for Russia?s citizens is again at risk due to the lack of money in the state coffers. Designing a unique piece of equipment wasn?t enough, it will take the researchers great effort to have it commissioned by respective ministries otherwise the great invention will mean nothing to the common people.
The easily mislead Israeli-made ?electronic noses? are capable of detecting much larger amounts of explosive because they?re cheaper to produce by comparison to the costly equipment built in St. Petersburg. One noticeable exception should be put in. The Russian machine is second to none when used for the airport security.
by Vladimir Konev and Elena Rotkevich, Saint Petersburg, Moscow
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