Technology developed at PNNL can track potentially dangerous radioactive materials

RICHLAND, Wash. — A new technology developed and licensed by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will ensure that radioactive materials don’t get lost or fall into the wrong hands.

Radioactive materials can be used in a number of industries, including oil and gas drilling and welding. However, if those materials are misplaced, they can cause significant environmental impacts or even be used to make dirty bombs.

“Having full situational awareness of where these resources are at all times is very important, “ said Kannan Krishnaswami, technology commercialization manager at PNNL. “Any one of these devices in the wrong hands could create a nuclear problem.”

The MSTS, or Mobile Source Transit Security, system consists of detection devices and radiofrequency tags. It can determine when a radiological source moves from where it’s supposed to be, and it can also detect changes in radiation levels, indicating a source has been taken. There is also a GPS component included.

“For example, an industrial radiological camera gets left, falls off a truck or in some cases has actually been stolen,” said Brian Higgins, the MSTS project manager. “Just from a profitability point of view it’s beneficial for a company to be able to know when a source is missing, but from a national security standpoint as well.”

The research and development was funded by the NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security, and Golden Security Services will produce the system and make it available to countries around the world. Currently, the technology is already being used in parts of Latin America.

Even once PNNL develops a technology like MSTS, there are many more steps that must be taken before it can be commercialized, so getting to this point in the process is significant.

“It’s an important part of our mission,” said Krishnaswami. “We want to get our technology into the market space, creating real solutions and real products that actually secure our nation’s critical infrastructures and make our nation safe.”