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At its November meeting, the APS Council approved the initiation of a study on humanitarian de- mining, pending the acquisition of sufficient external funds to cover the cost of such a study. An official charge will be developed and members appointed once funding has been obtained. The proposal arose from the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA), and calls for an extended study of over 18 months, with a panel of 15 physicists and engineers and a full-time study director. The intended audience includes private foundations, members of Congress and their staff, international agencies, the U.S. Departments of Defense and State.
"We expect the report will help funding agencies, especially those having little technical capability, to better decide upon which technologies to support for research, design and development," says Andrew Sessler (University of California, Berkeley), who co-wrote the proposal with Surajit Sen of SUNY-Buffalo. "We also expect that the study will stimulate the involvement of the community of physicists in the development of and evaluation of new technologies that are yet to be incorporated into existing programs."
According to Sessler, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that approximately 127 million landmines in 55 countries cause some 20,000 casualties each year. While there is an obvious need to detect, disarm, and remove the landmines, the current pace is very limited and existing programs require risky, manpower-intensive techniques that cost as much as $1,000 to remove a $3 mine. Current global budgets for manual detection and removal of mines are only about $200 million per year, which means it would require hundreds of years to solve the problem with money alone.
New and more reliable technologies, and significant improvements to existing technologies, are needed to will allow faster, cheaper de-mining. The GAO has identified 19 technologies that have been considered for de-mining, 17 of which are physics based. The scientific and technical dimensions of the problem are immense, including electromagnetic signatures, infrared, millimeter waves, conductivity and resistivity, quadrupole resonance, X-ray fluorescence, acoustic sensing, and neutron activation.
Part of the study's focus will be to help identify the most promising new technologies for humanitarian de-mining. This will require a fairly detailed technical assessment of various technologies, and hence the study panel will include not just physicists familiar with basic sensors, but also engineers with experience in developing new technologies for field use. The study will review the contributions of the DOD and the engineering communities, and then focus upon the area of long-term R&D beyond the horizon of private companies.
A Back Page on de-mining appeared in the July 2002 issue of APS News. It was written by Richard Craig of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
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