Tag Archives: radiological weapons

Beating the Dirty Bomb

dirty bomb

A DARPA program aimed at preventing attacks involving radiological “dirty bombs” and other nuclear threats has successfully developed and demonstrated a network of smartphone-sized mobile devices that can detect the tiniest traces of radioactive materials. Combined with larger detectors along major roadways, bridges, other fixed infrastructure, and in vehicles, the new networked devices promise significantly enhanced awareness of radiation sources and greater advance warning of possible threats.

The demonstration of efficacy earlier this year was part of DARPA’s SIGMA program, launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a cost-effective, continuous radiation-monitoring network able to cover a large city or region. The demonstration was conducted at one of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s major transportation hubs where DARPA tested more than 100 networked SIGMA sensors…

The pocket-sized radiation “pager” sensors developed by DARPA and used in the exercise can be easily worn on a person’s belt, are one-tenth the cost of conventional sensors, and are up to 10 times faster in detecting gamma and neutron radiation. Moreover, the program achieved its price goal of 10,000 pocket-sized detectors for $400 per unit….A large-scale test deployment of more than 1,000 detectors is being planned for Washington, D.C., later this year.

Excerpt from Ushering in a New Generation of Low-Cost, Networked, Nuclear-Radiation Detectors, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, Aug. 23, 2016

Trapping the Dirty Bomb: 2013 state-of-the-art

Passport NetS2 SmartShield.  Image from Passport Systems Inc.

Nuclear and radiological materials slipped out of regulatory control 2,331 times between 1995 and the start of this year, according to the Incident and Trafficking Database compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The materials are widely used in industry, agriculture and medicine. They are kept in many poorly guarded X-ray and cancer-treatment clinics. Such places are often not overseen with terrorism in mind. They have even been bought by crooks as front operations, says Rajiv Nayan, of India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Raids on abandoned uranium mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo are more frequent, according to that country’s General Atomic-Energy Commission. The problem is most acute in the former Soviet Union: in Ukraine alone, roughly 2,500 organisations use radiological materials.

In Georgia a counter-trafficking unit set up by the interior ministry seven years ago has arrested two or three teams smuggling radiological material every year save 2009. The lure of profits is so strong that some ex-cons get back into the business, says Archil Pavlenishvili, leader of the unit. Interpol has said such trafficking is growing: an acute “real threat to global security”.  It all sounds scary enough. But the reality has been less so. Moreover, by many accounts the most plausible dangers appear to be declining.

For a start, an “overwhelming” number of buyers turn out to be undercover cops, says Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank. A sizeable network of informers helps Georgia’s interior ministry to keep a close eye on the four or five cells in the country currently trying to obtain or sell radiological material, says Mr Pavlenishvili. ..Beyond this, intelligence agencies are hunting down traffickers with help from special “link analysis” computer programs. Also known as “network analysis” software, this crunches data from numerous sources to identify people whose travel, purchases, web searches, communications, schooling and so forth may spell trouble—perhaps an employee in radiation therapy who begins frequenting an inconveniently located bar whose owner receives phone calls from a drug-runner with growing operations.

Half a dozen Western governments “pay huge amounts of attention” to this, says an executive at a developer of the software. At least one spy agency in America, Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and an unnamed European country pays more than $1m a month to use it. The counter-trafficking units in both Georgia and Romania note that link-analysis software made by i2, owned by the giant IBM computer company, has helped to nab traffickers. Atsuko Nishigaki, the unit’s boss, says Japan’s economy ministry employs ten analysts to use a competitor’s software to identify traffickers in nuclear or radiological material.

America’s National Nuclear Security Administration has sponsored the installation of radiation-detection kit at ports in 23 countries and counting. The Megaports Initiative, as it is called, aims to have half of the world’s maritime container cargo routinely scanned by 2015. Networked systems are also being developed with detectors small enough to be worn on a police officer’s belt. The idea is to relay data on potentially dangerous radiation through a mobile-phone network to a central computer. Knowing each device’s location and the strength of the radiation it detects, the computer can “triangulate” the source’s approximate location.

Difficult problems remain. False alarms triggered by anything from a pallet of cat litter to radiation-therapy patients and nuclear-power-plant shipments have slowed research and development on one such network at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, says Simon Labov, a co-ordinator there. Even so, the lab’s work continues to be financed by America’s defence, energy and homeland-security departments. In October 2013 the latter’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office asked for proposals for a similar system, dubbed Human Portable Tripwire. Other outfits that have developed technology for such schemes include Smiths Detection in Britain and, in America, Berkeley Nucleonics, General Electric, GENTAG, Passport Systems and Purdue University.

The sheer danger of making a dirty bomb is a factor too. Without the right equipment and expertise, the really nasty stuff can kill the maker of a bomb before it is ready—part of the reason, perhaps, that no spectacular dirty-bomb attack has yet been launched. F

Dirty Bombs: Glowing in the dark, Economist, Dec. 14, 2013, at 67

How to Survive a Nuclear Conflict–DARPA Seeks New Tools

he BADGER explosion on April 18, 1953, as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, at the Nevada Test Site.  Image from wikipedia

The release of nuclear material at the Fukushima nuclear reactor after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake raised concerns regarding U.S. preparedness to treat large-scale exposure of citizens and military personnel to ionizing radiation. The immediate destructive potential of nuclear and radiological weapons, as well as their long-term public health and economic impacts, continue to be of concern to the Department of Defense. In light of the diverse, persistent, and substantial threat posed by ionizing radiation from nuclear and/or radiological weapons, DARPA is requesting information on novel therapies, methods, devices, protocols, compounds, and/or systems to mitigate the dangers that ionizing radiation poses to human health. As part of this investigation, a better understanding of the effects of chronic, acute, environmental, and internal ionizing radiation exposure on mutagenesis, cellular life-cycle, immunology, and metabolism is expected to be fruitful and lead to new areas of research…

DSO [DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office] is seeking innovative ideas that may be used to help inform a potential new program focused on demonstrating novel methods for mitigating the susceptibility of victims exposed to large doses of ionizing radiation over a range of temporal scales.

Topic Area One: Acute Interventions

DARPA is interested in novel approaches to mitigating the immediate, toxic effects associated with exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation. Concepts of interest under this Topic Area include, but are not limited to, the following:

—Prophylactic interventions that can be delivered prior to ionizing radiation exposure that protect against the immediate toxic effects of ionizing radiation to ensure survivability even at high irradiation doses.

—Post-exposure interventions that can be delivered as late as possible following irradiation while still ensuring survivability against the acute effects of ionizing radiation exposure.

Topic Area Two: Long Term Survival

DARPA is interested in novel intervention technologies for ensuring/enhancing survival against the long-term effects of ionizing radiation including cancers attributed to cellular damage and mutagenesis…

With the possibility of new therapies that enable survival in individuals who may have been exposed to doses of ionizing radiation that would normally be considered lethal, it now becomes even more important to understand the mechanisms of injury, including the effects of ionization within cells, mutagenesis and free radical formation that can lead to mortality from stochastic radiation effects.

Technical approaches of interest may address the need to improve our understanding of the contributions of immune system, cellular, and DNA damage to the deleterious effects of ionizing radiation on health, as well as propose novel therapeutic approaches for mitigating these effects. For example, some antioxidants (e.g., superoxide dismutase (SOD), SOD-mimetics, selenomethionine, Hirsutella sinensis, and others) have been shown to produce in vivo activity that can suppress lethality while other antioxidants (e.g., WR-2721, beta-carotene, caffeine and others) can mitigate mutagenesis and/or chromosomal aberrations.3,4,5 Some antioxidants, such as tocopherol-monoglucoside (TMG), produce in vivo activity that may mitigate both the acute lethal effects and longer term mutagenesis and chromosomal aberration effects of exposure to ionizing radiation. Understanding how these compounds act to reduce morbidity and mortality may pave the way to new, more effective therapies and protocols.

Excerpts from Source:  Reducing Ionizing Radiation Risk, Solicitation Number: DARPA-SN-13-24, Feb. 20, 2013