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The RadTruck Stops Here

The RadTruck Stops Here

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Published by Douglas Page
Mobile radiation detection monitors take counter-terrorism to the streets.
Mobile radiation detection monitors take counter-terrorism to the streets.

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: Douglas Page on Jun 28, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The RadTruck stops here
SUV-mounted radiation detection monitors take counterterrorism tothe streets
New Jersey outfitted a fleet of SUVs with ARAMequipment to patrol its roadways.
 From the
Douglas Page
 Imagine being able todetect a radiation source nolarger than a grain of sand,determine whether it'slethal 137cesium or theharmless potassium foundin a banana in an instantwhile cruising past at streetspeed in a police Blazer.Radiation detection devices called Adaptable Radiation Area Monitors, orARAM, developed at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(LLNL), are mounted in the cargo areas in the back of SUVs called RadTrucksto take counterterrorism to the streets.The ARAM devices are automatic portal monitors built to detect illicit low-energy gamma rays and neutron emissions characteristic of weapons-gradeplutonium and highly-enriched uranium. The units are capable of providingaccurate, positive warning and identification when suspicious materials comewithin detection range. Or, in the case of the RadTrucks, when the units comewithin range of the suspicious material. The New Jersey State Police has fourRadTrucks. California also has a fleet of about 20 of the $200,000 vehicles.The Secret Service is also said to have one. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, radiationportal monitors were used primarily to keep plutonium and uranium frombeing smuggled out of nuclear facilities, or to prevent contaminated scrapmetal from entering industrial steel mills. The principle fear was that terroristscould use the contraband nuclear material to assemble a dirty bomb — adevice designed to disperse radioactive contamination without thethermonuclear blast.
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Instant terror
Even though a dirty bomb incident would be unlikely to cause manydeaths, its real purpose would be to create instant terror in the form of masspanic, with lingering psychological damage. The aftermath would be asunpleasant as it is unprecedented. If a dirty bomb device were to bedetonated in a crowded sports arena or holiday shopping mall,decontamination and treatment of potentially thousands of panic-strickenvictims, as well as decontamination of affected areas, would be lengthy andexpensive. A dirty bomb set off in a metropolitan setting would also renderthe contaminated area unsafe and unusable for weeks if not months, resultingin further commercial doom.Having a speedy, reliable way to detect radioactive material, particularlywhile the source is in transit, has been the nuclear holy grail of homelandsecurity officials for years. Yet, few protections exist today that can be readilyinstalled into the stream of commerce to prevent dirty bombs and thematerials for larger nuclear weapons from entering or leaving the country.When earlier types of radiation detectors are put on the street they tend toalarm on harmless amounts of naturally occurring isotopes of potassium,radium, thorium and uranium — elements commonly found in commercialshipments and medical practices.To avoid the nuisance alarms associated with real but non-threateningmedical and industrial radiation sources, instantaneous isotope detection andidentification is therefore mandatory for mobile applications. ARAM, licensedto IST-Textron Systems, accomplishes this in near realtime in the RadTrucks.Tests have demonstrated that detection passes are successful in less than 5seconds at speeds of up to 50 mph.ARAM provides detection and identification in one pass. "Previousgenerations of detection systems needed a first pass to detect a radiationsource, followed by a second pass to identify the material," notes DaveTrombino, one of the Lawrence Livermore physicists that developed ARAM.ARAM not only makes nuclear counterterrorism mobile, it makes radiationdetection portable. "The 'A' in ARAM stands for Adaptable," Trombino says."This detection system can be used in fixed locations, in mobile SUVs, onsmall boats or even in backpacks."
What's hot?
The New Jersey RadTruck project is part of the federally sponsored"Securing the Cities Initiative," a program that focuses on increasing terrorismreadiness in the regions surrounding metropolitan New York City. The DefenseNuclear Detection Office within the Department of Homeland Security is thecoordinating federal entity working to establish an enhanced level of preparedness in the Northeast, including the states of New York, New Jerseyand Connecticut. The RadTrucks were provided to the New Jersey State Policeas a key component to the early detection strategy.So far, the trucks have been used to cruise metropolitan streets near theUnited Nations complex, around Flushing Meadows in New York City duringthe U.S. Open tennis championship, at football games at MeadowlandsStadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and at the presidential debate held atBelmont College in Nashville, Tenn., last fall before the election. "The mobileRadTrucks provide the ability to search for concealed radiation sources whileon the move," says Textron spokeswoman Sharon Corona. "Now, we can golook for the threat instead of waiting for the threat to come to us."ARAM technology is pretty good at going after the threat. ARAM is capableof identifying 30 microcuries of 137cesium — about the size of a granule of 
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The RadTruck stops here from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.com
sea salt — from 10 feet away on the move. Textron says you'd need 500times that amount of cesium to construct a dirty bomb, but if you had a dirtybomb, ARAM could detect and identify it from as far away as 120 feet — widerthan an eight-lane highway.Most radiation detection devices can be a challenge to master, butaccording to Capt. Dennis McNulty, executive officer of NJSP's EmergencyManagement Section, the RadTrucks can be operated by state troopers afteronly about 10 hours of training.
Ready, aim, wired
ARAM's automatic isotope identification relies on proprietary spectroscopicanalysis software. Textron delivers the RadTrucks network-ready via wirelessconnectivity for extended reach-back support.The trucks come equipped with touchscreen graphic interfaces and textmessage pagers. Modular system electronics and an integrated Pentium-basedprocessor are housed in weatherproof, electromagnetic and radio frequencyinterference shielding enclosures that can be installed in any SUV platform.Textron explains that ARAM uses a sodium iodide (NaI) device to detectgamma rays and a helium-3 (He-3) unit to detect neutrons. Both operate onthe vehicle's 12-volt DC system. State-of-the-art signal processing allowsARAM to acquire 1,024 channels of data 10 times per second, which in turnallows higher probability of detection and provides the analytic software high-quality data for identification. The vehicles can be configured to includemultiple detectors, as well as spectral data transmission and video capture.Current RadTrucks come outfitted with one or two NaI gamma detectors andup to four He-3 neutron detectors per vehicle.Separate audio and visual alarms are provided for both gamma andneutron emissions through a simple Windows-based user interface. Vehicleemergency lights and sirens are also integrated into the RadTruck processorinterface."This type of system gives us a better chance of not only picking up aradiation source, but also the type of radiation — whether it's a medicalisotope or a terrorist device," says Trombino.The tactical advantage of the RadTrucks is that they can be rapidlydeployed based on changing intelligence. "Any border or port, any venue orevent that might be a terrorist target can now be screened with minimalimpact and interruption," he adds.One significant operational advantage is it allows law enforcement tomonitor for nuclear materials while performing routine police functions.Though the stated purpose of the RadTrucks is to provide a committedpresence in the vicinity of the metropolitan areas of New Jersey outside NewYork City, the New Jersey State Police has assigned the vehicles to selectdivisions within the agency that have preexisting roles and responsibilities inhomeland security, emergency response and transportation safety."Consequently, using thoughtful and deliberate deployment strategies,these personnel have the opportunity to conduct both routine patrols and pro-active radiation screening throughout the entire state, on a 24/7 basis," notesMcNulty.With technology this advanced, law enforcement can do its job whiletaking Homeland Security to a whole new level. 
Douglas Page writes about science, technology and medicine from PineMountain, Calif. He can be reached atdouglaspage@earthlink.net.
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