NNSS AMS Manager Piotr Wasiolek (left) and NNSS AMS Equipment Specialist Jezabel Stampahar in the NNSA’s new King Air 350ER in December 2019.

NNSA and NNSS conduct first virtual International Technical Exchange with Aerial Radiation Measuring community

NNSS AMS Manager Piotr Wasiolek (left) and NNSS AMS Equipment Specialist Jezabel Stampahar in the NNSA’s new King Air 350ER in December 2019.
NNSS AMS Manager Piotr Wasiolek (left) and NNSS AMS Equipment Specialist Jezabel Stampahar in the NNSA’s new King Air 350ER in December 2019.

Leaders and representatives from 13 nations and one economy with national aerial radiation measuring teams met virtually Oct. 5 to 12 for the 8th annual Aerial Measuring System (AMS) International Technical Exchange, hosted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation (NA-81) and the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). The event allowed participants to share their countries’ aerial radiological surveying procedures, technologies and capabilities for responding to radiation emergencies with their international peers. This year focused on analysis software and activities of aerial radiological assets during non-emergency, or peacetime, environments.

The event was the first virtual iteration of the exchange due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While an in-person forum allows for a more detailed look at each nation’s aerial measuring operational systems, this year’s meeting featured a record number of attendees, with more than 50 participants.

“With the increase in access to virtual platforms around the world, this year’s exchange offered the ability to have more participants provide their expertise than when organizations have to worry about budget constraints and travel funding,” said Kirk Czap, deputy director of NNSA’s Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation (NA-81). “Even with the varied global time zones, the resulting exchange was a testament to the professionals from around the globe that provide this valuable service to their countries and their desire to share and learn from each other.”

Aerial measuring teams – comprised of scientists, pilots, and other technical specialists – are responsible for creating mapping products that are critical to the decision-making process following a radiological event. Teams maintain detection equipment and personnel readiness to respond to a radiological emergency within a defined period of time. Scientists from Canada, Czechia, France and the United States demonstrated how they use software systems to collect and analyze data from a designated area. In addition to varying terrain, each country has different aircraft and software systems to conduct this work.

When they are not activated for emergency response, aerial measuring teams have a diverse range of responsibilities. For the U.S. AMS, based at the NNSS’s Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, non-emergency activities include conducting baseline city surveys ahead of major national events, environmental surveys of industrial sites, training with other federal and state agencies, and continuous work with evolving radiation detection assets.

During the event, Norway shared its efforts to continue mapping radiological activity from the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Norway’s AMS program, which includes pilots and air assets from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, shared how its Sea King helicopter can be adapted to configurations for aerial measuring, in addition to search and rescue missions.

“The original AMS International Exchange was scheduled for May 2020; however, travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic required changes to our plans,” said NNSS AMS Manager Piotr Wasiolek. “After polling potential participants and exploring technical options, we came to the conclusion that, considering the topics for discussion, a virtual meeting makes a lot of sense. Considering the very positive response, we are glad that we did it. However, we hope that next year we can do the Technical Exchange in person.”

Next year’s International Technical Exchange plans to examine AMS operations in complex terrain, incorporating environmental and urban factors.