America’s seaports may soon be better protected from the threat of radioactive materials used for terrorists’ purposes.
A Worthington company has made a one-of-a-kind device to scan large shipping containers that could be used to conceal components for “dirty bombs” or other weapons.
DropBox Inc., a division of Portable Solutions Group based in the former Ashland Oil hangar at the Ashland Regional Airport, recently delivered a prototype radiation detection system to the Savannah River National Laboratory for a series of tests before possible deployment to container seaports in the United States. The testing is performed on behalf of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Working in conjunction with SRNL, DropBox employees fabricated a system that allows shipping containers to be scanned with the assistance of “straddle carriers” used to transport carriers up to 40 feet tall as they pass from ships to holding areas before being delivered to domestic locations via truck or rail.
“If there is nuclear material in a container, they want to know about it,” said Ben Pack, business strategy director for DropBox. Pack said the radiation detection system built in Worthington is capable of sensing radioactive material that might be used by terrorists, as well as naturally occurring radiation in materials as common as kitty litter. Pack said the sensor unit is created from 16 recycled shipping containers and four frames to support the heavy loads the unit will be used to process.
“It is a unique design. It has never been built before. It is unique in the world as far as we know,” Pack said, noting the design required heavy plates for structural reinforcement along with large openings for the actual radiation sensors, all built according to extremely tight tolerances.
“Most of the time when we cut the sides out of a container it is for doors or windows, but this had to be able to support the detectors so those openings needed support structures. You can’t have the container twist or warp. It has to be able to maintain if a corner is lifted and it has to be able to support those detectors, which are the equivalent weight of a small car,” Pack said.
“And we had to build it to tolerances for equipment we did not have in hand.”
Pack said everyone involved in the construction, design and modification process for the radiation detection device took a great deal of pride in the project. They have been pleased to hear reports the unit is performing well during the testing process.
“It is now being tested ... an expanded battery of tests using actual radioactive materials. The results are good so far and it has performed as intended or better than expected,” Pack said.
The system uses three detector assemblies, one on each side and another that “looks upward” from beneath the container. Depending on the system being used, radioactive material will cause an alarm to sound and then identify the specific isotope responsible for the radiation.
In addition to the radiation scanner, DropBox’s parent company Portable Solutions Group also manufactures Modular Access Control portals for a variety of purposes at sites requiring secure entry and exit points, such as nuclear reactors and military installations. Portable Solutions Group is manufacturing MAC portals for the Port Authority of New York to be placed at the site of the World Trade Center reconstruction in lower Manhattan, providing limited access and security for the site.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.