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Energy's radiation-detection center to respond to DHS needs, chief says

Oak Ridge National Laboratory unit will work to make new technology quickly deployable by agencies such as Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

A new Energy Department unit billed as the main U.S. radiation-detection laboratory will take some cues from a Homeland Security Department office set up last year, the director of the DOE project said this week.

The Center for Radiation Detection Materials and Systems, part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will seek to build on existing Oak Ridge strengths, Director Lynn Boatner said in an interview. The Tennessee center will develop new detection technology and will work to make new technology quickly deployable, he said, by agencies such as Homeland Security's year-old Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

"We're going to be an organization that hopefully does work for … and with" the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Boatner said. "We're responding directly to their needs and their requirements."

The Oak Ridge center has already responded to several calls for proposals for new detection projects from the Homeland Security unit, Boatner said. He said the center would focus heavily on making new technology usable quickly.

"One of the things that we're emphasizing in this work is the rapid movement and transfer of new developments and new technology into systems - fieldable systems for application in the field, for monitoring radiation in the areas in which [the center's consumers are] interested," he said.

Post-Sept. 11 worries about a radiological "dirty bomb" attack spurred the creation last year of the Homeland Security detection unit, which the agency describes as "a single accountable organization … to develop the global nuclear detection architecture and acquire and support the deployment of the domestic detection system."

Last month, Oak Ridge announced the creation of its detection center, which it said would "establish ORNL as the nation's central national laboratory for innovation and development in the field of radiation detection materials and systems."

"By virtue of a very long history going back almost to the foundation of the laboratory during World War II," Boatner said this week, "Oak Ridge National Laboratory has built up a really very, very strong component of capabilities, expertise, experience, equipment and so on in the area of materials synthesis and single-crystal growth."

The director said the new center would seek to build on those strengths, which can be avenues to improved detector sensitivity, and to bring into a single unit research and development activities that are now scattered around the Oak Ridge campus. The center now exists as an organizational structure but does not have its own building, a state of affairs Boatner said he would like to change.

"Our ultimate goal, of course, is to have a separate laboratory facility where people are brought together sort of geographically," he said.

"The reason that we decided to do this was to really try to centralize and focus our activities," he said. "This grew out of an increased need for an emphasis on the development of new and improved systems. … Certainly the events of the last few years, I think, have emphasized the need to really have systems that look for and interdict potentially dangerous materials, of which radioactive materials are just one category."