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NC scientists, students work to keep Americans safe from nuclear threats

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The federal government is charged with keeping us safe and it has put its faith in the work of scientists and students here in North Carolina.

“We're not really about producing specific gadgets that fix things today,” said Yousry Azmy, lead nuclear engineer at North Carolina State.

Azmy is the director of the Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities – CNEC – based at NC State, but including six other universities: North Carolina A&T, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois and Kansas State. They are big believers in nuclear technology for the right purposes, like energy or medicine. But they know the bad actors around the world want to use it do destroy their enemies.

“Nuclear weaponry is not only nuclear bombs, it could be dirty bombs,” says Azmy, speaking of the kind of things a group like ISIS might use against the US or other western countries. “So, the idea then, if they get a hold of a device like this and they hid it in a city block, for example, do we have the technology and the ability to spot that this has happened?”

His team thinks they might.

That includes John Mattingly, who has worked in nonproliferation for more than 20 years, including at the famous facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

He’s working on, “New methods for detecting proliferation using what I would call, 'non-traditional signatures,'" says Mattingly. That means pulling together the disparate skills of math, statistics, computer science, electrical engineering, nuclear engineering and, yes, even political science to teach each other about the effects of each one.

See how they do it, in this edition of the Buckley Report.