The Development of Networked Radiation Detection Systems
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
Technology advancement is a crucial component in the continuous effort to improve our nation’s capabilities to combat nuclear terrorism. In order to guide these improvements, research efforts must be focused on both filling gaps determined from analysis of the current world situation and on meeting needs specified by end users charged with providing protection. This research focuses on the technology to detect material out of regulatory control and the technology required to attribute this material back to its sources though nuclear forensics.
One of the most challenging mission areas in preventative radiological/nuclear detection is wide-area monitoring and search (WAMS). In this context, “wide area” could mean a specific venue (e.g. a stadium or conference center), a larger environment such as a city block, or even an entire city. The limited radiological signatures of actual special nuclear materials and likely threat devices make their detection inherently difficult via current generation radiation detection systems. A successful WAMS strategy therefore requires significant advances in networked radiation sensing capabilities, combined with advances in law enforcement tools that support “smart” search strategies, and exploitation of all-source intelligence using new analytical tools to guide these monitoring and search operations.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) began the first of several advanced technology demonstrations (ATD) designed to study and develop technologies for the WAMS mission. The Intelligent Personal Radiation Locator (IPRL) ATD was focused on developing the technologies required for a ubiquitous network of intelligently interacting, sensitive, spectroscopic, and directional radiation detection devices. The goal of this demonstration was the development of a pocket-sized radiation detector with the capability for determining the direction, flux and energy of the incoming radiation, and its own location and orientation, thus providing the ability, individually, or in concert with other detectors, to locate the source of that radiation. In 2009, DNDO initiated the Intelligent Radiation Sensor System (IRSS) ATD. The primary objective of IRSS was to demonstrate that a system of properly networked detectors can detect, locate, and identify a radiological threat faster and more accurately than the individual detectors in the system. The focus of this demonstration was on the development of software and networks that take advantage of standalone, small form factor, and very capable detectors.
The information learned from the IPRL and IRSS efforts have provided a strong baseline for the development of future technologies. Devices developed from the performance test units are now available in the commercial market and provide users with enhanced capabilities. In addition, the information learned from these demonstrations have served as a foundation for current research efforts being conducted both by DNDO and by other government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) SIGMA program and by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under the Optimized Planning Tool for Urban Search (OPTUS) program. The development of ubiquitous radiological network sensors is providing operational users with enhanced capabilities and a reduced operational burden. These new technologies improve our ability to protect the nation against nuclear terrorism.