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Muon Inspection

July 2, 2015

A cosmic way to see inside concrete and metal objects.




Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant before the March 2011 tsunami. (Kawamoto Takuo/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0, via flickr)

Putting space radiation to work. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Everything on earth is being showered with harmless but high-energy muon particles, produced when cosmic radiation from deep space hits our atmosphere. Los Alamos nuclear physicist Matt Durham and his colleagues have developed an imaging system that uses those muons like x-rays, to find corrosion, cracks and other defects inside pipes, bridges and buildings.

MATT DURHAM (Los Alamos National Laboratory):

So one of great things about muons is they’re incredibly penetrating, so they can go through many many feet of concrete and allow us to examine the object of interest and get a good image of it.


Currently, the team is helping Japanese engineers find weak spots in the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. In the future, they hope to turn their attention to infrastructure problems here in the United States, locating defects before they become catastrophic. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.