Called an ‘Air Cargo Scanner’, a device developed by CSIRO in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Australia can accurately and rapidly detect illicit drugs and explosives concealed inside air freight containers.

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The Australian Customs Service and CSIRO have already successfully prototyped and tested the unique Scanner which uses world-first neutron technology developed by CSIRO’s On-Line Analysis and Control (OLAC) team at LucasHeights.

The team has an international reputation for developing novel instrumentation for the minerals and energy industries – the Scanner is one of their many successes.

The neutron technology is non-intrusive to minimise the impact of security measures on rapid freight movement, and it is estimated that scanning an air freight container will take less than two minutes.

The main advantage of the Scanner over current and potential new scanners is its ability to accurately and rapidly analyse the composition, shape and density of an object – in real-time without unpacking the container.

Conventional X-ray scanners are good at detecting objects based on their density and shape – but not their composition. The Scanner is unique in the way it employs gamma rays and neutron analysis to build an image and help identify the composition of the object being scanned.

CSIRO has now patented this truly world-first technology. When fully commercialised, the technology has the potential to earn millions of export dollars for Australia. The additional spin-off applications are equally exciting.

In the meantime, the Federal Government has allocated $A8.4 million dollars to the Australian Customs Service to construct a commercial-scale facility at Brisbane Airport to trial the first commercial prototype Air Cargo Scanner being developed by CSIRO. The Scanner is expected to be operational in mid-2005.