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Back to EurekAlert! A Service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

 

Brookhaven develops science-based solutions to national homeland-security issues



Developed by Art Sedlacek (top), this one-of-a-kind chemical sensor is used to locate and identify chemical spills or ground contamination from a safe distance. The system, known as mini-Raman LIDAR, uses laser beam scattering patterns to identify substances by their distinct chemical "fingerprints."
Click here for more photos.

THE EIGHT PARALLEL PILLARS loom like some sort of post-modern Stonehenge, 20 feet tall and yellowish-orange in color. These steel towers, however, straddle a road encircling a former Long Island landfill, not a pastoral English meadow. Bristling with sophisticated electronic equipment, these pillars are radiation detectors: cutting-edge tools for the fight against terrorism that represent just one of Brookhaven Lab's current homeland-security initiatives.

"Here it comes now," says Carl Czajkowski of Brookhaven's Nonproliferation & National Security (N&NS) Department, pointing to a panel truck speeding down the road towards the detectors. As the vehicle passes between the pillars, multiple alarms sound in a nearby trailer, while computer screens display the type and energy of the radiation detected, and its position within the truck. The potential terrorists are stopped this time -- but if only in a demonstration. For this purpose, "We put a tiny radioactive source inside the cargo area," discloses Czajkowski.

From safeguarding fissile materials to developing sensors and technologies for detection of nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, toxic chemicals, biological pathogens, and conventional explosives, the Laboratory's homeland-security initiatives are advanced, science-based solutions to help meet the challenges faced by those protecting U.S. national security interests both at home and abroad. Over the past two years, Brookhaven has been consolidating and re- focusing its homeland-security programs while reaching out to local, state, and federal agencies to offer its assistance on a variety of issues.

RADTEC: DETECTOR TEST FACILITY

At the nation's ports, airports, and border crossings, security is increasingly focused on the possibility that terrorists may illegally transport radioactive material into the country, for use as part of a conventional nuclear weapon or a "radiological dispersal device," which is more commonly called a dirty bomb. In response, state-of-the-art radiation detectors are being installed at key locations in an effort to intercept these materials before they can be used in an attack.

In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Energy is drawing upon Brookhaven's expertise before field deployment of such radiation-detection equipment. "How we can help is by testing these instruments at RADTEC under controlled conditions that represent what is encountered in the field," explains Czajkowski.

RADTEC, or Brookhaven's Radiation Detector Testing and Evaluation Facility, is where off-the-shelf homeland-security technology developed by the government or industry can be assembled, operated, tested, and compared. Open for use by government and industrial technology developers, RADTEC defines the strengths and weaknesses of different types of detectors, and enables the comparison of detectors based on performance and ease of use. Analysis of RADTEC test results can be used to help develop the most comprehensive protection system using detectors in and around the New York metropolitan area.

In addition to collecting baseline data on various types of detectors, RADTEC staff is also offering training to city, state, and federal officials on operating and testing detectors, and interpreting test results. "After we complete testing," say Czajkowski, "these detectors will be deployed during field trials at New York and New Jersey facilities, such as bridge and tunnel toll plazas, shipping yards, and airport freight hangars."

DEVELOPING ADVANCED SENSORS

In addition to testing existing detectors, the Laboratory is also developing its own advanced sensors for detecting radiological, biological, and chemical materials. The most promising technologies under development at Brookhaven include:

  • Cadmium-zinc-telluride-based sensors: detect gamma rays emitted by radionuclides of interest to terrorists, including cesium and cobalt. Unlike high-purity germanium detectors, which are expensive and must be kept chilled to function effectively, these work at room temperature and are compact and lightweight.
  • Large-volume xenon-based detectors: are another type of room-temperature device used to detect and identify radioactive materials at transportation bottlenecks.
  • Highly sensitive thermal neutron cameras: can locate fissionable radioactive materials from a substantial distance.
  • One-of-a-kind chemical sensor: can, from a safe distance, locate and identify chemicals, such as those used in nerve gas, dispelled in the air or deposited on surfaces, using laser-scattering patterns to identify a substance's distinct chemical signature. In March 2003, the technology was licensed to the UTEK Corporation for further development.
  • molecular fingerprinter: could be useful for the early detection of biological attacks.
  • Accelerator-based, cargo-scanning technology: can detect nitrogen, which is found in many explosive materials.

Brookhaven is also working with other New York and New Jersey agencies to determine what additional help is needed to prevent dangerous materials from entering the U.S. For instance, one solution involves deploying detectors as part of a sensor network to collect data from containers and ships, U.S. Customs and Coast Guard agents, dock-side cranes, truck and rail heads, and commercial trucks traveling Interstate 95.

A more ambitious Brookhaven program, called Urban Shield, would integrate data from hardened sensor networks that are deployed throughout a municipal area such as New York City and that provide on line data in real time. These sensor networks would employ a dense array of meteorological instrumentation, satellite products, and radiation detectors to identify and help track chemicals or radionuclides if accidentally or intentionally released, thereby providing real-time information that is crucial to emergency responders.

REGIONAL COUNTER-TERRORISM PLANNING

"For many political, economic, psychological, and technical reasons, New York City has been and continues to be a major target of terrorism," comments Paul Moskowitz of N&NS. "As a result of our proximity to New York City and our scientific and technical expertise and experience, Brookhaven is an invaluable counter-terrorism planning and implementation resource for the New York metropolitan area."

Over the years, the Laboratory has worked with city officials on issues of common interest, including spent nuclear-fuel transport, air and water pollution, and emergency services. Since September 11, 2001, Brookhaven has offered its assistance and been consulted on the counter-terrorism issue, as exampled by:

  • January 2002 conference "Implications for Security of the Built Environment in New York City" co-sponsored by the Laboratory
  • April 2002 workshop "New York Metropolitan Region: Counter-terrorism and Infrastructure Assurance Technology Needs" co-sponsored by Brookhaven, and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, the Environmental Measurements Laboratory, the New York City Office of Emergency Management, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
  • 2002 DOE-FUNDED study "Security of Radioactive Materials at Non-Reactor Sites in New York State" led by the Laboratory for the New York State Governor's Office of Public Security
  • 2002 workshop "Urban Atmospheric Observatory" for New York City co-sponsored by Brookhaven and the Environmental Measurements Laboratory
  • 2003 DOE-funded study, now ongoing and co-led by Brookhaven, of the vulnerability to terrorism of New York State infrastructure, such as bridges, tunnels, energy control systems, oil or gas pipelines, water supplies, and telecommunication systems.

Through these and other efforts, Brookhaven has developed close working relationships with key regional authorities, private-sector partners, and academic institutions, including:

  • New York City Office of Emergency Management
  • New York State Office of Public Security
  • Long Island Forum for Technology
  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
  • Symbol Technologies, Inc.
  • Stony Brook University
  • United States Merchant Marine Academy.

AT HOME AND ABROAD

While detecting and intercepting dangerous materials before entering the U.S. is crucial, securing these materials at the source is just as important.

So, overseas, Brookhaven scientists are working to safeguard nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union through the Laboratory's material protection, control and accounting cooperative program.

Designed to secure highly enriched uranium and other dangerous material stored at formerly secret sites across Russia and the other former Soviet states, program projects include:

  • upgrading and modernizing facilities used for the storage and disposal of nuclear materials
  • providing re-training and job-placement help for the Soviet Union's former nuclear scientists
  • building facilities to consolidate and convert highly enriched, weapons-usable uranium into low-enriched uranium suitable for use as nuclear reactor fuel
  • installing operational monitoring systems at a variety of Russian facilities, including nuclear submarine bases
  • working with DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration to prepare and implement a strategy for securing and controlling radioactive sources of foreign origin that could be used in a "radiological dispersion device," which is also known as a dirty bomb.

"Most of the confirmed incidents of trafficking in radioactive or nuclear material involve material of Russian origin," explains N&NS Department Chair Joseph Indusi. "Since obtaining this material is the key to constructing a radiological dispersion device or nuclear weapon, it makes sense to try to safeguard these materials at the source, thereby preventing their transfer to terrorist groups or rogue states."

MORE INFORMATION

funding: U.S. Department of Energy; U.S. Department of Homeland Security; National Institutes of Health; National Nuclear Security Administration; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and others
paper: "Ultraviolet Mini-Raman LIDAR for Standoff, In-situ Identification of Chemical Surface Contaminants," Review of Scientific Instruments, September 2000, volume 71, number 9, pp. 3485-89
contact: Joseph Indusi, indusi@bnl.gov or (631) 344-2975
Web: www.bnl.gov/homeland, www.bnl.gov/nns

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