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EM’s Laboratory Supports Testing Wireless Technology in Secure Environment

January 29, 2014 - 12:00pm


Joe Cordaro of SRNL observes the secure wireless TAM cart.

Joe Cordaro of SRNL observes the secure wireless TAM cart.

AIKEN, S.C. – Wireless networks have become commonplace in homes, restaurants and retail environments. But up to now, they have not been suitable for secure environments.

That may change. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Savannah River Tritium Enterprise (SRTE) has begun a year-long test using secure wireless technology in a tritium air monitoring system. The test is an important step in demonstrating the ability to reap the benefits of wireless technology in a secure environment, with potential for applications across NNSA, other federal agencies and critical manufacturing facilities.

EM’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) — which is part of DOE's network of national laboratories across the U.S. — designed and fabricated a prototype wireless Tritium Air Monitoring (TAM) cart, funded by SRTE’s Plant-Directed Research and Development program for innovative research, development and demonstration projects relevant to SRTE’s support for NNSA. The project also includes a control room computer display for the monitoring results along with related software.

“Secure wireless technology offers a lot of advantages to help achieve our goals of improving reliability, reducing complexity and providing deployment flexibility for our TAM systems,” said Lee Schifer, director of tritium operations for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which manages SRTE and SRNL. The company is the management and operations contractor for the EM program at the Savannah River Site.

“This is the type of technology that places SRNL at the forefront in innovation,” SRNL Laboratory Director Dr. Terry Michalske said. “Not only does this solve a very expensive issue here at the Savannah River Site, this technology can be used across many industries to help keep information secure. At a time when citizens wonder if their valuable information is protected, SRNL is working to help make sure this most critical information remains secure.”

NNSA and its sites around the country could benefit greatly from the ability to use this wireless technology for radiation monitoring in nuclear facilities, where monitoring is essential for operating the equipment safely and protecting personnel. With the cost of running cable into a radioactive process room as high as $2,000 per foot, a wireless system could save millions in construction or upgrade of new nuclear facilities. Wireless air monitoring is also expected to be more reliable than its wired equivalent because it reduces the number of components in the air monitoring system.

Another key advantage is the freedom of movement that comes when equipment is not restricted by wires and cables. The sensors can be placed directly in the area of concern, instead of pumping air to the sensors’ location.

The TAM cart houses robust tritium monitoring equipment, a secure wireless transmitter, alarms and a backup power source. SRNL contracted with General Dynamics to develop components for the ultra-secure short range wireless network. During the demonstration, network reliability is being monitored by an independent computer. So far, the system has demonstrated 100 percent reliability.