SRNL, Radiation Scanner, Testing

Savannah River National Laboratory's Troy Lorier, part of the data acquisition team, runs tests at the lab in October 2016 prior to deployment of the radiation detection system.

A system developed by the Savannah River National Laboratory to detect and flag illicit radioactive materials in shipping containers is now in use at one of the busiest ports in the country.

The On-Dock Rail Straddle Carrier Portal Monitoring System was commissioned and put into service this year at the New York and New Jersey port, which in 2017 handled more than 3.8 million cargo containers – nearly $200 billion in terms of value.

A similar detection system was deployed in Washington state at the smaller Tacoma port in 2018.

As containers are unloaded and moved toward rail cars, they can be scanned through the On-Dock Rail Straddle Carrier Portal Monitoring System. The system, the Savannah River Site-located lab announced, is expected to boost productivity.

"We have not only enhanced our national security, but we've delivered on a system that can do so while increasing the efficiency of operations at these ports," said David Wilson, the associate laboratory director for national security at the national lab. "This is the kind of practical application of science that this lab does best."

The radiation detection system – developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – has been in the works since 2011. That fall, a prototype was installed at the Port of Virginia southeast of Washington, D.C.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will operate the SRNL-designed detection system at the two-state port. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, is supporting the efforts.

In total, there are 17 national labs spread across the country. Work done at the Savannah River National Laboratory touches national security, nuclear cleanup and energy manufacturing fields, among others.

"We do work for everybody," SRNL Director Vahid Majidi has said before.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin