Scientists at Savannah River National Laboratory used unique resources available at Savannah River Site to conduct tests of nuclear detection systems and train law enforcement officers from five states with live radioactive materials.
SRNL developed the testing methodologies for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The organization tested a number of commercially available radiation detection platforms to compare effectiveness for the DNDO.
“The equipment did what it was designed to do. Each one detected nuclear material with varying levels of success. Some detected some elements better than others,” said Richard Reichel, director of SRNL Global and Homeland Security Programs.
Reichel said the government-sponsored testing was not to endorse any particular product and didn’t share particular test results to avoid government-sponsored market influence. He said the access to radioactive elements such as plutonium, uranium and cesium made for the perfect opportunity to train regional law enforcement agencies in nuclear scenarios.
The equipment tested is similar to existing ones in place at high-traffic areas such as ports and semi-truck weigh stations where shipping vessels might try to conceal nuclear material. The equipment was vehicle-mounted for mobile detection operations in both testing and training.
“The value is that if there is radioactive material that is not supposed to be, you can find it. That material potentially represents a hazard to the general public or it could be used in an improvised nuclear weapon,” Reichel said.
The testing was part of what the DNDO calls directed testing that supports agency purchases around the nation.
In a prepared statement, a DNDO spokesperson said, “Directed testing supports the development, validation and harmonization of radiological and nuclear detection standards.”
The DNDO also extended invitations to law enforcement agencies to work with their detection equipment after the testing was complete.
Reichel said it was important to get hands-on training with real-world nuclear materials that aren’t available for regular training at the different law enforcement agencies.
“SRNL has the unique capabilities to perform testing and exercises that are significant to the nation’s nuclear security,” Reichel said. “We are able to provide information and distinctive scenarios and settings not possible elsewhere.”
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