RICHLAND, Wash. -- For several decades, PNNL has been conducting research and development on methods to detect very low levels of nuclear releases.
This work includes the development of the world's most sensitive sensors to detect airborne radiological debris for treaty verification and monitoring purposes. Pacific Northwest National Laboratories used these capabilities to detect the trace debris in the plume from Japan.
There are actually two monitors that have been developed. One is the ARSA- the automated radioactive sample analyzer. It can detect the smallest traces in our air, like Xenon 133, which was found in Richland last week. "The levels of radiation we're detecting are far below anything that would be of concern for human health," says Larry Greenwood, a physicist that helped develop the technology.
The other part is the RASA, which finds radioactivity in particles. It can detect things like Iodine, Cesium, and Tellurium.
PNNL-developed technology has been incorporated into the international monitoring system used for treaty verification. As a result there are number of similar sensors in various locations around the world. Specifically PNNL operates very sensitive monitoring systems in Richland, but there are also approximately 65 operating sensitive international systems at approximately 70 locations around the world.
"The whole idea is to be able to detect extremely low levels of radiation, because we're looking for treaty violations. Nuclear test ban treaties," says Greenwood.
Domestic locations include Sacramento, California, Oahu, Hawaii, Ashland, Kansas, Wake Island, a few locations in Alaska, and Midway Island.
And the technology is mobile. "We have a portable version we're developing right now, CTBTO, comprehensive test ban treaty organization operates an international monitoring system that stations all over the world, and we are part of that network, trying to help develop the technology," says Greenwood.