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Staff Accomplishments

ETD staff help Homeland Security develop standards for radiation detection instruments

March 2004
When the White House issued a news release noting the achievements of the first 100 days of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a PNNL project was among those singled out in the science and technology section. Throughout the project, DOE laboratories, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, industry, and users have collaborated to develop standards to ensure the integrity of thousands of radiation detection instruments being purchased nationwide with DHS funds. The “guidelines for technical performance and testing of radiation detection equipment” mentioned in the news release will comprise four new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. These standards cover personal radiation detectors, hand-held survey instruments, radionuclide identifiers and portal monitors. Because radiation detection is a concern worldwide, elements of the new ANSI standards also have been incorporated into standards under development by the International Electrotechnical Commission and the International Organization for Standardization. “Detecting illicit radioactive material that might be used in a dirty bomb or other terrorist activities is so important that both the users of the radiation detectors and the public need to have confidence that the instruments will do the job,” said PNNL project manager Joe McDonald, who chairs the 17-member committee for the personal radiation detector standard. That standard covers pager-type detectors, those small enough to be carried in a pocket or mounted on a belt. Other PNNL staff members working on the pager standard and the other standards are Michelle L. Johnson, Dick Kouzes, Ray Warner and Phil Smith. In a notable understatement, McDonald said the work is “going along well.” His team produced the personal radiation detectors standard in just six months – a task that usually takes 2-3 years. He anticipates that all four standards will be published by the end of 2003, one year from the project’s start. McDonald attributed the quick work to the urgency of the task and the compatibility of the team. He was especially impressed with the openness of the equipment manufacturers. “No one was trying to spin the standard to favor their particular design,” he said. “We also had tremendous support from other DOE labs and from the user community, including firefighters, police, Coast Guard, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, express shipping companies and emergency deployment organizations. PNNL’s participation in the standards effort stems from the laboratory’s extensive experience with testing and developing standards for radiation detection instruments. For many years, PNNL has evaluated the performance of radiation detection instruments for the Hanford Site, and tests have been performed to determine the response of instruments when they are subject to high and low temperatures, shock, vibration, electric and magnetic fields and various types and intensities of radiation. McDonald said that the testing of radiation detection instruments to verify their conformance to the specifications included in the ANSI standards will be performed at several laboratories including PNNL. The 318 facility has equipment for carrying out all of the tests specified in the new standards. “Commercial manufacturers of radiation detection instrumentation have already made inquiries about PNNL performing tests of new instruments under development to determine their operating characteristics and to assess their performance relative to the new ANSI standards,” McDonald said. Looking at the overall effort, McDonald mused that standards development usually is very low-profile work. “I’ve never seen so many people collaborating on standards and determined to get them right. This project got a lot of attention because the standards very important for security of our country” he said.

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