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Checking R2-D2 for background radiation

Nuclear-sensing helicopter near the R2-D2 building in the Back Bay

Mark Clancy scored a great shot of the National Nuclear Security Administration helicopter today as it flew part of the Marathon route to take in background radiation levels just in case something happens where that might become important to know.

The copter crew does this every year in the days before the race.


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seemingly at eighth-floor level, near the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Marlborough Street in the Back Bay, around 5 pm.

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Are they looking for radiation sources that might indicate a dirty-bomb-in-waiting, or are they establishing a baseline so that they can tell what areas have been contaminated once one goes off?

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Measuring background radiation before the event. Presumably any significant background radiation detected from unusual areas would be noticed and checked out, too.


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If someone moves stuff in after this, it might be detectable.

There is considerable background radiation in the area from radon.

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I found this article which provides some interesting info about the program. Part of it is training, and part of it is having before measurements so that in the event of an after they have something to compare it to to figure out what changed.

This NNSA activity is part of a longstanding effort by the government to establish baseline levels of naturally occurring background radiation in large metropolitan cities that can be used in the event of a dirty or nuclear bomb threat by comparing the baseline data to unnatural spikes in certain types of radiation in an attempt to identify the location of a bomb or bombs.

The AMS uses a sophisticated radiation detection system to gather radiological information and store it on computers, which then can be compared against earlier surveys of naturally occurring background radiation. NNSA scientists are then able to rapidly develop maps of radiological materials deposited on the ground from a dirty bomb or nuclear bomb detonation and the potential radiation exposure to personnel in the affected areas. This information gives emergency response officials information necessary to effectively respond to the emergency.


I forgot where but I believe in past years I've read that even things like the granite bedrock or changes in hospital diagnostics programs from year to year can be enough to visibly change on the data maps that they collect if the baselines aren't refreshed.

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