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Research at PNNL

Nuclear Radiation Detection Technologies at PNNL

  • This one-meter resolution satellite image of Natori, Japan, was taken one day after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck the Oshika Peninsula on March 11, 2011. This image was taken by GeoEye's IKONOS satellite on March 12 2011 from 423 miles in space as it moved from north to south over Japan at a speed of four miles per second. For photo release information, please contact Geo Eye.

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Technologies developed at PNNL and deployed worldwide were the first to detect radioactive isotope xenon-133 entering the continental United States on Wednesday, March 16, 2011, whose origin was consistent with a release from the Fukushima nuclear reactors in northern Japan a few days earlier. The levels were extremely low and posed no health hazard, since the dose rate detected was less than one-millionth of the amount a person normally receives in one day from background radiation produced by sources like the sun.

For decades, organizations serving the nation, such as the National Nuclear Security Administration, have relied on PNNL's expertise in nuclear radiation detection. The national laboratory has been on the forefront of developing radiation detection technologies, evaluating biological effects of radiation, and working to understand how contaminants move and change in the environment. This work has included developing methods and instruments for measuring ultra-low levels of radionuclide in support of non-proliferation and treaty verification activities.

Nuclear Radiation Detection — Questions and Answers

PNNL In The News

On March 11, a tsunami following a major earthquake off the coast of Japan caused significant damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The incident has been the subject of worldwide media attention. Following are a selection of news stories that have run since the incident and have included mention of PNNL or insight and comments from PNNL scientists.

Ultra-Sensitive Technologies


Two nationally recognized devices developed at PNNL detect nuclear detonations by analyzing the atmosphere for traces of radioactive material. These systems are located around the globe and used to monitor international compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) by detecting nuclear explosions. The devices are called the Automated Radioxenon Sampler Analyzer (ARSA) and the Radionuclide Aerosol Sampler/Analyzer (RASA).

News Releases

Published Reports

Detection Systems

Radiation Detection and Nuclear Sciences

Separations, Detection and Analysis

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Research Directorates