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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Testing Reliability of Radiation Detectors

New York, Aug 11, 2004

A marathon of testing is underway at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to ensure that personal radiation detection equipment purchased with Department of Homeland Security funds meets new standards for identifying potential threats.

In February 2004, DHS adopted four American National Standards designed to assist federal agencies as well as state and local officials in procurement decisions related to radiological and nuclear detection equipment. The standards will assist manufacturers and homeland security professionals by providing performance standards and test methods, as well as minimum characteristics for four classes of radiation detection equipment ranging from hand-held alarming detectors to radiation portal monitors for cargo containers.

Coordinated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, more than 100 instruments, representing approximately 30 different equipment models, will undergo tests of their electrical systems performance, mechanical operations, environmental susceptibilities and radiological sensitivities based on the DHS standards.

“These pocket-sized personal radiation detectors and hand-held radiation survey meters play a critical role in the work of law enforcement officers, fire fighters, hazardous material teams and other emergency first-responders,” said PNNL physicist Joe McDonald. McDonald chaired the 17-member collaboration of DOE laboratories, NIST, industry, standards developers and users that developed the standards for personal radiation detectors.

“The group was challenged to develop the standard in record time – only six months – and the pace remains brisk for instrument testing,” McDonald said. Normally, this type of testing would be spread out over a two-year period, “but the need and the threat are present now,” he said.

The PNNL team of five calibration technicians targets September 30 for completion of the DHS testing. Each instrument will undergo both automated and manual test procedures and will be given a pass/fail report, plus a capabilities overview. According to PNNL, the result will be a Consumer Reports-style publication to further assist agencies purchasing radiation detection equipment with DHS funds. First responders will be able to select equipment based on actual instrument performances, rather than on manufacturer’s claims.

“A win for us is not just completing the testing, but also providing information that makes it possible to get reliable equipment in the field as quickly as possible,” McDonald said. “On-time completion will enable DHS to allocate immediate funding for agencies that have urgent business in the line of first response.”

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 3,800 staff, has a $600 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab’s inception in 1965. For more information, visit

See related story: U.S. Department of Homeland Security Adopts Radiological and Nuclear Detection American National Standards

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