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Safer radiological contamination assessments

​When a radiological attack occurs, first responders need fast, reliable, automated detection and measurement solutions to assess the situation safely. In research for the EU TERRIFFIC project, CEA-List helped develop a new device that does just that.

Published on 16 June 2022

​Emergency workers responding to radiological incidents—whether malicious or accidental—must be able to rely on lightweight remotely-operated equipment to determine where the threat is located and how much radioactivity is being released without putting their health at risk. In research for the EU H2020 TERRIFFIC project, CEA-List helped develop a solution that combines a ground robot (NEXTER Robotics), a UAV (drone AERACCESS), and a portable probe.

CEA-List's Nanopix, the world's smallest gamma camera, was originally developed to inspect radioactive sources from a distance. For this new use case, Nanopix was equipped with smart communicating capabilities. The camera was also made more vibration resistant and mounted on a light ground robot and UAV so that large areas can be mapped. During field testing, the new solution sent an image of the scene with real-time radiological hotspots superimposed on it every second. This translates into excellent performance: The system took just 20 seconds to locate a radioactive source on a 9,000 sq. m surface from a height of 100 meters.

Another key piece of information for first responders is beta emitter contamination, which poses a particularly serious threat to humans. During a radiological accident, for example, beta emitter measurements can be disturbed by the high gamma irradiation in the environment. CEA-List leveraged its experience designing plastic scintillators to develop a beta contamination measurement probe that can tell the difference between the two types of radiation. Firefighters from different countries tested and validated a demonstrator in field drills.

The probe is currently being transferred to CEA-List partner Nuvia, a leading radiological protection and detection instrument provider. Work to integrate the Nanopix camera on a robot is ongoing under the EU CLEANDEM project on nuclear decommissioning.

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