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NNSA Nuclear/Radiological Incident Response

December 01, 2008

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has over 60 years of nuclear weapons experience in responding to nuclear and radiological accidents and incidents.  NNSA provides technical support to the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Defense for nuclear terrorism events and domestic nuclear weapon accidents and incidents.  The NNSA emergency response assets also provide support to nuclear site and facility accidents and incidents.

The goal of the Nuclear/Radiological Incident Response program is to respond to and mitigate nuclear and radiological incidents worldwide.  This is accomplished through the seven unique assets for crisis and consequence management events.  These assets encompass four core competencies: core knowledge of U.S. nuclear weapons, “dirty bombs” and crude nuclear devices; core knowledge of use and interpretation of specialized radiation detection equipment; core technical operations; and core technical support requirements.  The seven emergency response assets are listed as follows:

  • Aerial Measuring System (AMS) – AMS characterizes ground-deposited radiation from aerial platforms.  These platforms include fixed wing and rotary wing aircrafts with radiological measuring equipment, computer analysis of aerial measurements, and equipment to locate lost radioactive sources, conduct aerial surveys, or map large areas of contamination.
  • Accident Response Group (ARG) – The ARG response element is comprised of scientists, technical specialists, crisis managers, and equipment ready for short-notice dispatch to the scene of a U.S. nuclear weapon accident.
  • National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) – NARAC is a computer-based emergency preparedness and response predictive capability.  NARAC provides real-time computer predictions of the atmospheric transport of material from radioactive release.
  • Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC) – FRMAC is an interagency entity that coordinates federal offsite radiological monitoring and assessment activities for nuclear accidents or incidents.  FRMAC is responsible for providing a single source of compiled, quality controlled monitoring and assessment data to the lead federal agency involved in the incident response.
  • Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) – RAP provides advice and radiological assistance for incidents involving radioactive materials that pose a threat to the public heath and safety or the environment.  RAP can provide field deployable teams of heath physics professionals equipped to conduct radiological search, monitoring, and assessment activities.
  • Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS) – REAC/TS provides medical advice, specialized training, and onsite assistance for the treatment of all types of radiation exposure accidents.
  • Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) – NEST provides technical assistance to a lead federal agency to deal with incidents, including terrorist threats, which involve the use of nuclear materials.  NEST has been structured to address threats by domestic and foreign terrorists that may have the will and means to employ weapons of mass destruction.  NEST would assist in the identification, characterization, rendering safe, and final disposition of any nuclear weapon or radioactive device.

In addition to the above seven assets, a "home team" capability called Triage provides 24/7 on-call analysis support to first-response teams.  Triage analysts are top PhD nuclear physicists, chemists, and engineers from the NNSA weapons laboratories that specialize in interpretation of spectra from portable radioisotope identifiers.  Typical response times are 10 minutes to begin an analysis and 30-60 minutes for an answer back to the field.  This capability not only minimizes the cost of a false alarm, but also accurately identified real threats so that, if needed, additional resources can be appropriately utilized.