Reining in Radiation Detection Systems

Thursday, July 7, 2011 @ 02:07 PM gHale

A horse race is most likely the last place to conduct a radiation test, but that is just what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) did with police from Nassau and Suffolk counties at the Belmont Stakes in June. They worked on three experimental next-generation radiation detection systems.

These systems can identify and precisely locate sources of radiation.

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Two of the prototypes were stand-off radiation detection systems (SORDS), and the other was a roadside tracker. SORDS consist of detection equipment placed in a truck and on a trailer driven around the facility to search for stationary sources. The roadside tracker consists of two trailers placed opposite each other that would scan for sources of radiation as vehicles moved between them.

SORDS can detect a millicurie of radiation — which is equivalent to one millionth the radiation used to treat cancer — from 100 meters and determine its location within 10 meters horizontally and vertically. The roadside tracker can detect a millicurie of radiation across five lanes of traffic in a vehicle traveling up to 70 mph.

“We learned that under certain circumstances both technologies — both the SORD systems and roadside tracker — would be valuable to us in certain applications,” said Stuart Cameron, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department’s Special Patrol Bureau. “They would be superior to our baseline equipment in a lot of different respects.”

Since SORDS allow an operator to precisely identify and locate sources of radiation, Cameron said they could help reduce the time needed to identify potentially dangerous sources of radiation. The county’s current system requires an officer to investigate the source on foot and identify it, something that would be difficult if the location was not open to the public.

Limitations of the current equipment make it difficult to screen multiple lanes of traffic moving at highway speeds without reducing the number of lanes of traffic to one or two and causing congestion.

As part of the demonstration at the Belmont Stakes, police had their current systems and these prototypes in place. When the new equipment identified a potential source of radiation, police verified the finding with the current equipment following the department’s existing concepts of operation.

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