PNNL technology detects radioactive materials from the sky - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

PNNL technology detects radioactive materials from the sky

Posted: Updated:

NEAR RICHLAND, Wash.--Breakthrough technology detects radioactive materials from the sky. New information from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories is they can detect nuclear materials from the sky. What's really impressive about this new high tech device is how light and mobile it is. It can be put in planes and helicopters to help with National Security.

They call it MARS. The Multi-Sensor Airborne Radiation Survey can track different types of radiation. The National Security Administration funds these projects to stop nuclear terrorism. It can be used to detect suspicious activity on everything from boats to warehouses and cars. Scientist Karl Pitts says "the advantage to this system is it was built to be deployable on helicopters and things like that. Pound for pound it's by far the most efficient detector ever built." It's a step above border patrol detectors.

Pitts says "this system was built basically to tell you what you've detected. At the border crossings those systems are used pretty much to tell you whether or not something is radioactive. This system tells you what kind of radioactive material we've got."

It works more than a football field away from the target. It's the first lightweight machine that can detect from the sky. Pitts says "the system actually was designed to be very flexible and it's been in trucks and boats and things like that. And the helicopter is the next logical progression." MARS used to weigh tons, and now it only weighs around 200 lbs.

There is a variety of materials that can be detected. Anything from plutonium, to uranium to cobalt. The data is sent to a computer real-time which tells the scientists which type of radiation is detected, where it's coming from and how dangerous it is.