Radioactive materials are a critical tool in a number of industrial applications particularly oil and gas drilling and welding. While these sources are safe and well-regulated for their intended use; if lost or stolen the materials could be used by terrorists to make dirty bombs. The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed and licensed a technology system to keep track of and secure radiological material on the road or at job sites. Eagle Integrated Services of Maryland, will produce and deploy the Mobile Source Transit Security, or MSTS system, starting at several sites in the United States and Internationally.
The system is a first line of defense against radiological terrorism and provides situational awareness if the material is tampered with or moved from where it is supposed to be.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, most radiological dispersal devices would not release enough radiation to kill people or cause severe illness. But they certainly could create fear and panic, contaminate property and require potentially costly cleanup. The National Nuclear Security Administration sponsored PNNL to develop the MSTS system to help protect such material from theft, loss, or tampering.
Radiological sources are commonly used in the oil and gas industries. These sources help determine and log geological features of an oil well, such as porosity or proximity to oil. Other devices with radiological material are commonly used for industrial radiography where devices are used to inspect welds on jobsites. PNNL used its extensive radiological and radio frequency expertise to develop the MSTS system, which consists of detection devices and radiofrequency tags specifically designed to track the devices that house this radiological material.
Eagle Integrated Services will produce the system and make it available to companies that manage the estimated thousands of radiological sources internationally.
“We are very excited to have several stakeholders interested to deploy this technology, and an overwhelming interest from a broad range of companies that are looking for a cost-effective solution to protect their radiological sources” said Mike Ellis, COO at Eagle Integrated Services. “PNNL’s technology is a valuable addition to our portfolio of products and services designed to provide physical protection to radioactive materials around the world.”
An oil well mapping truck can travel several hundred miles from its home base. The radiological sources are shielded in specialized casks and moved in trucks that meet Department of Transportation requirements. MSTS sensor technology and associated software can determine when a radiological source moves from where it’s supposed to be and alerts officials. Components of the system work together to control and secure the sources from home base, to the field and back.
The MSTS can also detect changes in radiation levels, which can indicate a source has been taken from its shielding cask. Likewise, a master control unit monitors sensors and runs decision processing software to detect any tampering with or removal of the radiological material. Global Positioning Systems track the location of the transport vehicle to and from the job site. All data are available to system users through a custom MSTS software.
PNNL partnered with Baker Hughes, an international oil field services company, to understand the issues and balance operational needs with national security concerns.
NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security, whose mission is to protect, remove and reduce industrial radiological sources, completed more than a dozen deployments of MSTS in the United States and is now assisting international partners in securing their mobile radiological sources. Eagle Integrated Services is also working independently with several international and domestic partners to install and deploy this technology.