Sandia National Labs designs modular radiation monitors for U.S. ports

Sandia National Laboratories’ modular radiation detection monitors will decrease costs and enhance threat detection, officials say.

As part of an effort to replace and upgrade the aging radiation detection systems at ports across the country, the Department of Homeland Security tasked Sandia National Laboratories and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to create a plan for a new generation of radiation portal monitors to replace the more than 1,400 monitors deployed at land crossings, rail crossings, mail facilities and shipping terminals across the country.

Known as the interface specification, the blueprint outlines a redesigned radiation portal monitor based on a modular, open-systems architecture that will allow upgrades or replacements of each module or unit as new technologies or threats arise, Will Johnson, a Sandia physicist said.

The modular design also includes built-in diagnostic tools that allow for state-of-health monitoring and predictive maintenance. The tolls are expected to simplify the upkeep of the units, as well as the upgrading of the monitors, which would lower the unit’s lifetime operating costs, saving the government money.

The plans also enhance threat detection through advanced alarming algorithms that can collect data to develop even better algorithms in the future, officials said. The enhanced threat detection would reduce the number of nuisance alarms, which, in turn, would mean fewer vehicles and containers would need secondary inspection, thus keeping the flow of trade and commerce at ports of entry flowing.

“This means scanning cargo and conveyances to detect radiological and nuclear threats with a greater level of accuracy, resulting in increased protection, decreased costs and reduced delays at ports of entry,” Johnson said. “Our work on this project is a really good example of using Sandia’s radiation detection hardware expertise and our nuclear threat detection knowledge and systems engineering capabilities, while partnering with other labs for their deep operational and testing experience.”

Liz Carey

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