New aircraft to support US radiological emergency response

23 December 2019

The US Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has unveiled three new nuclear incident response aircraft. The King Air 350ER aircraft are equipped with specialised radiation detection systems and will be used to conduct measurements of air and ground contamination following a nuclear or radiological accident or incident, as well as conducting baseline surveys for normal levels of radiation in the environment in preparation for major public events.

L-R: NNSA's Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Jessica McNutt and Congressman Ron Estes of Kansas inside one of the newly delivered planes (Image: NNSA)

The aircraft will be used by teams from NNSA's Aerial Measuring System (AMS), which is based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Joint Base Andrews, near Washington, DC. The AMS mission is to provide a rapid survey of radiation and contamination following a radiological emergency. It does this by using fixed-wing aircraft to collect information and determine the location of ground contamination, then using helicopters to perform detailed surveys of ground contamination.

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said AMS is a "premier example" of the organisation's dual public safety and national security mission. "AMS aircraft frequently support security preparations for high-profile events such as presidential inaugurations, the Super Bowl, Boston Marathon, and other major public events. Although these deployments are not well-known to the public, they're part of a critical apparatus working behind the scenes to keep the American people safe," she said.

The new aircraft replace aging assets and improve AMS’ reliability and range in providing rapid, wide-area assessments of radiological or nuclear events anywhere in the continental USA, NNSA said.

AMS is part of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team which encompasses all DOE NNSA nuclear incident response assets. These include: the Radiological Assistance Program, which provides assistance for incidents involving radioactive materials; the Accident Response Group, which responds to any accident involving a US nuclear weapon; the Joint Technical Operations Team and National Search Task Force, which respond to weapons of mass destruction device missions; the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center, which provides real-time computer models showing the atmospheric transport of hazardous materials; and the DOE's Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center, which responds to major radiological public health emergencies.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News