Newswise — Hundreds of barges, tow boats and recreational craft passing through Watts Bar on the Tennessee River will be monitored for nuclear material as part of an effort to thwart terrorists.
The project, scheduled to start in September, is a collaboration among the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ORNL's primary role is to test sensors and related technologies for effectiveness in detecting radiological materials.
With more than 4,000 vessels passing through the Watts Bar dam lock each year, the opportunities for testing the system are significant, as are the potential benefits.
"Working together with our federal, state and local partners in government, along with private industry and citizen volunteers, we are forging a 'team of teams' that will make Tennessee a place terrorists will want to avoid," said John Sterling of the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security.
Installation of the sensors at Watts Bar is an extension of a project that began in 2002 with the placement of radiation detectors at weigh and inspection stations along Interstate 40 near Knoxville and Interstate 26 in South Carolina. The deployments in Tennessee and South Carolina are unique in that they are the first of their kind to be installed at weigh stations and waterway locks under the auspices of state safety and law enforcement organizations.
"This real-world testing addresses radiological and nuclear material detection in commerce and is part of a larger program to collect commerce transportation data," said Randy Walker, a senior program manager in ORNL's Computational Sciences & Engineering Division.
Sterling also noted the value of using Tennessee roads, rivers and other critical assets for testing new technologies that are the key to building counterterrorism capabilities.
Researchers intend to determine the range and effectiveness of the four detectors already in place at Watts Bar, where operators of pleasure craft will be asked to complete a survey consisting of 10 simple questions. Workers at the dam lock will collect manifest data, note weather conditions and take digital photographs of barges and other vessels transporting cargo.
The project is scheduled to continue through December, and officials noted that precautions will be taken not to disclose the shipper's name, carrier's name, commodity and date outside of official use only government entities so as not to disclose sensitive proprietary information.
All of the information will be processed using ORNL's SensorNet system, which is in the process of being automated. The project also includes establishing a method to notify TVA security and law enforcement agencies if radioactive material is discovered.
ORNL, which is managed by UT-Battelle, employs 1,500 scientists and engineers and is DOE's largest multipurpose science and energy lab. Funding for this effort is provided by DOE's Office of Environmental Management and the Department of Homeland Security. Also involved in the project are the U.S. Coast Guard, Chattanooga Freight Bureau and Science Applications International Corp.