Safer way to clear menace of hidden Falklands landmines discovered

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Scientists have found a new way to detect landmines from the Falklands and Yugoslav conflicts.

A team at Imperial College London hope to deploy their new “controlled burning” technique, which strips away top layers of peat to expose devices.

It could be used in peat terrains such as the Falkland Islands. Thousands of mines are still hidden there, more than 35 years after the conflict with Argentina ended.

Landmines are typically uncovered by mine-sweeping machines or sappers crawling across the ground, which can be dangerous, time-consuming and expensive.

The new electrical device, O-Revealer, uses a heating coil inserted into the top layer of peat. When the current is switched on, it slowly heats the peat to 500C to start the “flameless combustion process”. Tests have been carried out at Imperial’s Kensington labs using dummy mines in peat, with artificial wind to simulate local conditions. 

Researchers believe the technology could be useful in peaty terrain in countries such as Burma, Laos, Zimbabwe, as well as those that once made up Yugoslavia. The countries are supported by the Halo Trust, which works to clear mines in conflict zones. Prince Harry is a patron, as was his mother Diana.

In Imperial’s lab, researchers replicated two of the most common types of landmines: the Italian SB-33, which was widely used in the Falklands, and the Serbian PROM-1. They are due to carry out live trials and hope to test their technology in the Falklands, working with bomb disposal teams. 

Some 20,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank devices were left behind by the Argentinians, including plastic-cased devices. Parts of the islands are still off-limits, and Britain’s slow and expensive clearance work is years behind schedule.

Dr Guillermo Rein, who runs Imperial’s Hazelab research group at the department of mechanical engineering, said: “Our study is important as we need to find quicker and safer methods for revealing landmines so that they can be removed.”


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