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High-sensitivity gamma imaging for radiation protection

​​​​​The fruitful collaboration between NUVIA and CEA-Leti continues with the development of NuVISION-MAX, a compact gamma camera that significantly improves sensitivity.

Published on 21 June 2024

In 2016, NUVIA, a VINCI Construction Group subsidiary that specializes in radiation protection services, sought to combine several functions within a single imager to further improve the safety of nuclear power plant personnel. ​

“At the time, we had already developed several imaging systems, including an X-ray scanner for medical use and baggage screening,” recalls Loïck Verger, Head of Industrial Partnerships for CEA-Leti's X-ray and gamma-ray imaging activities. “Our expertise attracted the attention of NUVIA, with whom we've been working closely ever since."​

NuVISION: detect, locate, identify and track radioactive sources​

The goal was to develop a portable, compact gamma camera capable of performing four functions:

  • Detect a radioactive source
  • Locate the radioactive source
  • Identify the radioactive element in question (cesium, uranium, plutonium, etc.)
  • ​Assess the dose rate generated by the source

These three pieces of information are essential if an operator is to work in complete safety. But the scope of such a system can extend beyond the nuclear power plant, as it can also contribute to the fight against radiation threats. ​ ​​

“That's why our system also offers a dynamic tracking function,” adds Loïck Verger. “For example, if an ill-intentioned person had a radioactive source in his or her pocket, the gamma camera would be able to follow its movement and identify the radioactive element.”​

The goal was achieved in 2018 with the launch of NuVISI​ON, a compact 3-k​g imagerapproved b​y the Safety Committee for the 2024 Paris Olympics. To meet all requirements, the device relies on CdZnTe semiconductor detectors (an alloy of cadm ium, zinc and tellurium), a high-performance material on which CEA has been working for the past thirty years.​

NuVISION-MAX: a much-improved gamma camera ​

“Nevertheless, one of the challenges of gamma imaging is sensitivity to photons, especially high-energy ones," notes Loïck Verger. “This is because certain sources can emit low levels of intensity, as in the case of a malicious individual transporting a radioactive element through an airport. In such cases, we need to be able to detect a large number of photons very quickly in order to identify the radioactive element as quickly as possible."

At the time of its release, NuVISION had a significant lead in this field, but the teams at NUVIA and CEA-Leti continued to improve this design in order to maintain their lead over the competition. ​​

As a result, they succeeded in doubling the detection volume and hence high-energy sensitivity of the device. This new version is called NuVISION-MAX and has the advantage of keeping its compact dimensions while maintaining compatibility with the architecture, mechanics, electronics and software of the standard model. This facilitated the recent marketing launch of this innovation, which makes an important contribution to the safety of both nuclear operators and the general public. ​

“We are proud to expand our range of gamma cameras with the arrival of the NuVISION-MAX, which supplements our nuclear measurement products,” says Dominique Rothan, Managing Director of NUVIATech Instruments. “The NuVISION-MAX is the result of an excellent collaboration with the teams at CEA-Leti. This product combines a range of cutting-edge technologies, drawing in particular on Leti's expertise in gamma imaging. Despite the complexity of the technology, we have made it as user-friendly as possible. The arrival of NuVISION-MAX presents an interesting alternative for locating and identifying low-activity hot spots, whether for radiation protection applications, CBRN detection or radioactive waste characterization.” ​

These challenges are perfectly in line with the missions of the CEA Technological Research Division, which aims to develop technological solutions for French and European industries.​

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