International visitors study new field of nuclear forensics at Hanford
Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published November 7, 2013
A siren blared and lights flashed as an SUV drove through a radiation monitoring station at the HAMMER training center at Hanford.
It was the start of a fictitious case that would be solved by 26 visitors from nations around the globe who are spending two weeks in the Tri-Cities to learn more about the emerging field of nuclear forensics.
They’ll go home to countries from Vietnam to Mexico with information that can help them identify confiscated nuclear materials and possibly trace them to their origins, helping prevent nuclear proliferation and acts of nuclear terrorism.
“It’s a very new science and we’re trying to stand it up internationally,” said Jon Schwantes, a senior scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. “Nuclear terrorism and proliferation is a global issue.”
The need for the training, which is being offered for the second time at HAMMER by the National Nuclear Security Administration, is more than theoretical.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed about 400 cases of smuggled, stolen and other criminal possession of nuclear materials since 1993. That includes at least 16 incidents involving weapons-usable enriched uranium or plutonium.
When suspect radioactive material is seized, such as at a border crossing, law enforcement officials need to be able to investigate the incident as a possible crime. But traditional forensics labs aren’t equipped or experienced to handle and analyze nuclear material.
In the United States, for instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation turns to scientists at the Department of Energy for support when cases require nuclear forensics. But a scientist helping law enforcement with an investigation needs to learn new skills that can make or break a criminal investigation, such as maintaining chain of command.
“I gained an overview of all aspects of forensics -- sampling, analyzing, summarizing results,” said Jiri Janda of the Czech Republic, this week, the second week of the course. He’s a scientist and soldier who teaches at a defense university.
He’ll be introducing the information in his classes taught to military and civilian students and looking at ways to change his country’s military procedures, including for chain of custody when the army conducts nuclear forensics sampling and identification, he said. In the sample case that the students have followed for two weeks, the SUV set off alarms as it crossed through a radiation monitoring station, similar to ones Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has helped DOE set up at border crossings and ports around the globe.
Students would practice using new technology, starting with a portable 3-D X-ray radiography equipment to see inside the bag without opening it in case it contained a bomb.
They would use two scientific techniques for the nuclear forensic investigation of the bag’s radioactive contents: alpha spectrometry, which would require them to use chemistry to separate out a pure sample of the radionuclide for analysis, and gamma ray spectrometry, which can be tricky because of background radiation and other factors.
They helped law enforcement crack the case, discovering they were dealing with two types of radioactive material. The evidence contained weapons-grade plutonium and barium 133. The barium 133, which is used in law enforcement instruments to detect items hidden in containers such as gas tanks, in this case was being used to mask the plutonium and make it more difficult to detect.
But determining what material was being smuggled helped law enforcement only half solve the crime. The next step was for students to determine where the material came from by consulting materials databases for similarities to their evidence samples and reaching out to the neighbors of the fictitious country where the case was set.
“Not every country needs advanced capabilities, but every country needs some rudimentary capabilities in nuclear forensics to be able to categorize nuclear or radioactive material out of regulatory control,” Schwantes said.
For more advanced analysis in real cases, workshop participants are encouraged to reach out to the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group and draw on new contacts made at the workshop. Experts supporting the class came from multiple DOE national laboratories, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and agencies in Australia and Europe.
Students in the class included participants with a mix of science, regulatory and law enforcement backgrounds from Algeria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
“This was the first time I have had access to these types of techniques of specific detection,” said Ligia Ruiz, a radiochemist for the Mexico National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards. The information she learned will be helpful as Mexico builds its nuclear forensics capability, including purchasing equipment, she said.
“The intention is to learn as much as possible and introduce it into our procedures in order to save people,” Janda said.
HAMMER High Speed Course Trains Officers for Patrol Pursuits
JANE SANDER — KNDU-TV
Aired September 13, 2013
RICHLAND, Wash.-- High speed pursuits are something to practice for and at HAMMER training facility their emergency vehicle operation high speed course will get your blood pumping.
Hanford Patrol and regional law enforcement officers learn important skills there and then put them to the test on the course.
"We have to be prepared if somebody who's not authorized on site, who has ill intent, is actually stopped before there's any harm to the public or to any government assets," said Casey De Groof, Deputy Chief Hanford Patrol.
"Gives us an opportunity for our employees and law enforcement to get a feel of when the vehicle breaks traction. We want them to know what to do," said Rudy Almeida, Hanford Patrol driving instructor.
Officers first drive figure eights in a skid car before hitting the high speed course.
Outriggers lift the tires off the ground to lose traction and train the driver how to react quickly in a safe environment.
Almeida holds a remote during the lessons that controls which wheels would lose traction and in which direction.
After the skid car, Almeida takes officers in a patrol car at speeds up to 80 miles per hour on the high speed course.
It's training like this that prepares local officers to be ready to respond to any high-speed situation.
The 1.3 mile course is used by Hanford Patrol and law enforcement from across eastern Washington and parts of Oregon.
HAMMER an asset worth much to Tri-Cities, nation
RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald
Published July 3, 2013
RICHLAND, Wash.-- We've seen the National Guard get called in to help with countless disasters and emergencies
across our country this year, from the Boston Marathon bombing to tornadoes in the Midwest.
It seems the National Guard is always there to help and ready for anything.
That preparedness comes from training and practice. The Washington National Guard recently took advantage of
the HAMMER facility in Richland to do just that.
Operation Evergreen Ember was aimed at rescuing victims of a mock chemical plant explosion. Soldiers and
airmen gathered to train for the immediate response team. That team can be deployed to a disaster in Northwest
locations and Alaska within six to 12 hours.
Ten teams trained to cover chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive disasters are operating in 10
regions. Washington's team has yet to be deployed, but wants to be ready at a moment's notice should the need
The training exercise, which had actors complete with mock injuries, is a good reminder of what an asset we have
HAMMER was dedicated to its founder, the late Tri-City leader Sam Volpentest. HAMMER stands for Hazardous
Materials Management and Emergency Response.
Since the doors to the new facility were first opened in September 1997, HAMMER has played an integral role in
preparing workers and emergency responders for high-risk tasks and the use of new technologies.
For those unfamiliar with the facility, here's a little history courtesy of HAMMER: HAMMER got its start in 1986 as
a community-based initiative to improve training for hazardous materials workers, emergency responders and
firefighters. Tri-County fire commissioners, the Benton-Franklin Regional Council and local labor councils
developed the concept.
In 1994, Congress appropriated funds to begin operations in a temporary facility and initiate construction of the
center. When it was done in September 1997, HAMMER was officially dedicated the Volpentest HAMMER
Training and Education Center in honor of Sam's tenacity, skills and selfless commitment.
Since then, it has been used by a wide range of groups for valuable training. First responders can access
weapons and SWAT training and firefighting classes at the facility. Department of Energy folks can take classes
there, as can construction workers needing safety training for work at the Hanford site.
HAMMER is owned by DOE, and its primary use is to train Hanford workers. But it is more diverse than that.
Several tribes have worked with HAMMER for college-accredited intertribal fire and law enforcement training.
Along with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the tribes also have worked to develop a seven-acre Cultural
Test Bed. Among other things, it is used for training to identify and investigate potentially looted cultural sites.
HAMMER is truly an amazing resource for our community, state and nation. Sometimes we forget how
remarkable the offerings are in our community.
We may not see what's happening at HAMMER on a daily basis, but big exercises like this recent one get
attention and remind us of the important work done right here at home that will help save lives and aid recovery
efforts across the nation.