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Jormungandr, the Snakebot of Doom, is sitting in the ruins of New York City, busily extracting iron and steel from the rubble in order to turn it into railgun slugs - and also extracting any survivors it finds.

So far, it appears to be ignoring the helicopters buzzing around, ferrying in relief supplies to the survivors in Central Park, and picking up the survivors that it exhumes.

This is in distinct contrast to its reaction to an incoming airstrike, an artillery strike and Chinese ICBMs.

Some important people may start to wonder just why Jormungandr ignores helicopters, and may contemplate slipping a nuke aboard one of them, getting it in close, and detonating it.

However, Jormungandr knows more than is realised. It has practically every bird and bat on the the planet bugged, and if someone was seen by a bird loading anything suspicious onto a helicopter, Jormungandr's reaction would be quite different.

Jormungandr and its flying spies have radiation detectors of a sensitivity far beyond the best of those made by humans, but while they can isolate radiation sources weaker than the background, there is still an uncomfortably short passive detection range. However, there are active methods of detecting atomic weapons, mostly involving bombarding the suspicious package with neutron beams and detecting characteristic gamma emissions as tbe neutrons cause the fissionable material to fission.

The problem with this is that plutonium and uranium are still hard to detect even when bombarded with neutrons.

So, Jormungandr is likely to be interested in any helicopter that is carrying cargo that could be a concealed atomic weapon.

The question: What cargoes that might be transported to a disaster relief area by helicopter would be of sufficient size and would emit radiation similar to that which an atomic weapon might emit, and hence could be mistaken for an atomic weapon by Jormungandr?

EDIT

Modern atomic weapons do not simply contain Uranium or Plutonium as their only radioactive substance. There may well be deuterium and/or tritium even for a pure fission weapon, and a fusion weapon is practically guaranteed to contain Deuterium and Tritium. Also, the krytron or sprytron switches used for detonation pulse synchronisation often contain radioactive substances such as Nickel-63, usually β-emitters.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would you send radioactive stuff to a distaster relief area in the first place? $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 6 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan I thought of x-ray machines using radioisotopes, though they may be too small. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 6 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Dude... you had my interest at "snakebot of doom." $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 7 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ Am I correct to assume your spies can differentiate radiations from one thing to another? Well, radiation from a weapon to, let's say, ultraviolet radiation? $\endgroup$ – Mr.J Jan 7 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Mr.J Radiation detectors can tell if they're detecting α-particles or β-particles, but they can not only tell if they're detecting γ-radiation, but also the energy of the γ-radiation, which is a strong indicator of its source. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 7 at 10:19
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Assuming that the disaster relief zone sets up a semi-permanent field hospital, it may not beyond the realms of reasoning that they have a mobile CT (Computed Tomography) scanner brought in.

https://uk.medical.canon/mobile-relocatables-overview/mobile-relocatables-overviewmobile-ct-2/

A mobile CT scanner is normally carried on the back of an articulated truck, but there's no reason that it couldn't be tethered to a large transport helicopter. Unlike MRIs, ultrasound and X-Ray machines they exhibit a significant radioactive signature in operation, to the degree that a CT scanner is a last port of call by a clinician and only used when required, owing to the potential damage caused to human DNA. It's again not beyond the realms of reasoning that whilst of course the CT scanner won't be in operation in transit, may still exhibit a radioactive signature when idle, which may be ordinarily dismissed by Jormungandr and his homies.

Following your requirements, a CT scanner would be large enough to carry a payload and also could emit a justified radioactive signature.

NB. I have to state I've never heard of a CT scanner being used in disaster relief zones. However it's the only medical device that would follow your requirements. Other "everyday" emitters include:

  • smoke alarms (Americium-241; however this only emits significant alpha radiation, not gamma - plus smoke alarms in a disaster relief zone?).
  • Golf balls have historically been radiation emitters (not sure why you'd have golf balls going to a disaster relief zone? Recreation for casualties?).
  • Historically also some medicines contained Radium (again not significant emitters; plus this is no longer the case).
  • Granite exhibits a higher-than-background radiation signature owing to the Radon it gives off. Again, not sure the reasoning behind taking large amounts of granite to a disaster zone.
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Radioisotope thermoelectric based power generators would be an obvious answer. But knowing a little bit about disaster response I don't think RTGs would be permitted to enter a zone like that. At least non-military ones. But being sci-fi anything is possible.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if it's so much "not allowed" as "no point to it". RTGs are designed to provide small amounts of power over very long periods with no maintenance, but relief efforts call for a lot of temporary power, the exact opposite. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jan 6 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ "small amounts of power of very long periods" -- you mean like the kind of power that emergency communications would require. ;) $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Jan 7 at 1:12
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Far fetched theory, but nuclear wastes from a working nuclear powered power plant.

The helicopters might have been used to transport nuclear waste since the road to the nearest location to store these wastes by land where blocked or might have been destroyed. Dumping the waste anywhere will impede rebuilding that's why proper disposal is still encourage

Some guys got on Hazmat suits and securely loaded the waste to the helicopter, during the transport however, some of the containers somehow leaked, which might explain a detection of a false nuclear weapon.

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