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EMPIR project provides new tools to deal with nuclear incidents

Better ways of dealing with radioactive incidents, such as occurred at Fukushima and Chernobyl, have been developed by an EMPIR project

In 2011 an underground earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered emergency responses at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, 36 kilometres away. The resulting Tsunami not only triggered a release of ionizing radiation from the reactor but also destroyed static radiation monitors at the plant which meant that little was known about the extent or type of the radiation release, hampering response to the incident.

To help minimise the extent and damage from such events in the future the now completed EMPIR project Metrology for mobile detection of ionising radiation following a nuclear or radiological incident (16ENV04, Preparedness) has developed new systems for the remote and mobile monitoring of radiation threats.

Some of the achievements during the project’s lifetime include:

1. Five different, unmanned aerial detection systems (or ‘drones’) for ground radioactivity monitoring for nuclear or radiological emergency preparedness and response were developed and include:

  1. A light-weight autonomous spectrometric detector system suitable for mounting on small sized drones.

  2. A novel, real-time detector for the localisation of gamma radiation ‘hotspots’, the AISense Gamma type IV, was developed for mounting on medium sized drones

  3. A heavy lifting SDO 50 V2 helicopter (45 kg payload) was provided to the project by the aerial specialists SwissDrones fitted with a high energy resolution, high-purity germanium (HPGe) detector.

The latter system, developed in conjunction with SwissDrones, NUVIA and CMI, will be presented at IAEA Technical Meeting on June 27-30, 2022, dedicated to the presentation of UAV radiation monitoring systems and techniques.

2. Together with industrial partners the project consortium developed, calibrated and tested three transportable systems for the monitoring of gamma-ray emitting radioactivity in the air:

  1. The first, a compact, hand-carriable device developed by Kromek Ltd and validated by the UK’s National Metrology Institute NPL is the QuantAir which is now commercially available.

  2. The second system that was developed and tested by the Slovenian measurement institute JSI is the MARE – a rugged radiation detector built into a flight case for easy transportation.

  3. The third, designed for transportation to a location once the site of an incident is confirmed, is the Continuous Environmental Gas Aerosol Monitor (CEEGAM) system built by NUVIA and validated by the Czech National Measurement Institute CMI and is anticipated to be available for retail in 2023.

3. The project created the most comprehensive review to date of radiation dose measuring instruments used in non-governmental networks to date.

            In addition, two new dose rate detectors were developed.

  1. The first, developed by Kromek Ltd, NPL and PTB, allows 1000’s of handheld gamma and neutron radiation monitors to collect data simultaneously in real-time and send results in seconds to a central location. This detector is now commercialised as D3S NET, which allows access to the SIGMA network developed by the American Defence Agency DARPA.

  2. The second, tested by PTB, uses a cost-effective Raspberry Pi-like circuit board.

4. Published a comprehensive review of passive dosimetry for environmental radiation monitoring. This included results from an intercomparison exercise with 760 passive dosemeters from 38 different dosimetry services in Europe, performed at various reference sites at the German National Metrology Institute, PTB. The information gained from the systems is of key importance for the quality assurance of various dosimetry services.

Stefan Neumaier who coordinated this highly successful project said about the work:

“The main objective of our joint research, performed by 17 partners (including  6 National Metrology Institutes and  Designated Institutions) as well as supported by 11 collaborating laboratories, can be summarized in one single sentence: to develop metrologically sound methods to remotely measure and monitor radioactivity in the environment in case of a nuclear or radiological incident, with the paramount aim to protect health and life of early responders as well as the public against dangers arising from releases of radioactivity and ionizing radiation”.

In line with this central objective, the results of the Preparedness project will help minimise the societal, economic and environmental damage caused by a radiological incident, allowing the prompt determination of exclusion zones and off-site emergency zones by governments, based on sound, trustworthy metrologically obtained data.

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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