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RadSense: Making Nuclear Safer

Radsense allows for the affordable rapid collection of radiological data from a potential disaster area, to facilitate emergency response

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Radsense is a project I have been working on for a few months now. It allows for the affordable rapid collection of radiological data from the area of a potential disaster, in order to more effective coordinate emergency response.

This project started with an internship at the local Emergency Management office. The county I interned in bordered on one of the many nuclear reactors currently active in the US. So, most of my work had to do with response plans and tools that would be used in the event of a radiological disaster. Many of these plans were slow and potentially dangerous to first responders, so I set about modernizing response, while at the same time keeping the price low, so that it could be adopted by many others in the US, and around the world.

Many current plans call for responders to charge head-first into the disaster zones, to take readings by hand. They are handed a cell phone, Geiger counter, and a GPS. They have to go out into the wilderness and find a specific point, marked on the GPS. Then, they must take a reading with the Geiger counter, drive to somewhere with reception, and call the results in to the command office.

This obviously presents many problems. The largest of which is that in an emergency, when seconds count, it could take hours for all the stations to report in even just the initial values, forget sustained data. Considering it is the 21st century, I went to work looking for an IOT system that could take radiological readings in the field, and send them back to the command post. However, there were many issues with the currently available systems:

1. Cost. Many of these systems cost in excess of $5,000 per unit. This is nearly impossible to maintain when you have a small county trying to monitor 10-20 locations at once.

2. Communication Dependencies. We keep a hard copy of every plan ever. No reliance on cloud servers or anything that can be disrupted in a disaster when we would need it. Many currently available systems for radiation monitoring required communication with external servers, which may be unreachable or unreliable in a disaster.

3. Hardware Dependencies. A lot of the area surrounding nuclear power plants is woodlands or sparsely populated areas (because, well, who'd build a reactor in the middle of downtown?). When you have a system that requires constant 4G and 120V AC connection to function, this suddenly turns into a difficult operation. Do you spend thousands to install new poles and run power out there, just in the off chance that something goes wrong? What if a storm knocks out a power pole in the middle of nowhere? How long will it take to get fixed?

So, I set to work developing a low-cost alternative to the currently available systems, using off-the-shelf items and simple, affordable systems. The new system will be easy to adopt and implement, and will be able to be made from parts purchased online.

This system also serves to save lives, not just money. Quicker response times allows for more rapid evacuations, better targeted responses, and safer work enviroments for first responders.

Here on Hackaday, I will document the development, prototyping, testing, and hopefully, the deployment of this technology, to help protect millions here in the US, and around the world. Upon completion, I hope to release this project under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

  • Step 1: What is a Geiger Counter?

    jim.heaney03/20/2017 at 22:28 0 comments

    The core of this project is a low-cost Geiger counter. They are not very expensive to make as it is. You can get all the parts to make one for just $30 on Ebay. Geiger counters are basically just really fancy switches, that only turn on in the presence of radioactive particles. There are, however, a few important pieces of information that need to be kept in mind while working with a Geiger counter.

    1. High Voltage. Most Geiger tubes (the main functioning part of a counter) usually runs at 400-1200VDC. Not only is this a safety issue, bit there are also constraints on sizing and cost of bringing input voltage up to 400V, and then bring the output back down to logic-level voltage that can be read and understood by the embedded microcontroller.

    2. Fragility. Most tubes are made of thin-wall glass over a vacuum or near-vacuum condition. This leads to a very fragile piece that needs to be protected from the elements, as well as bumps and any form of rapid movement. This also ties into the next point...

    3. Exposure. The obvious solution to the previous point is to just wrap the tube in bubble wrap 5-feet thick, and never need to worry about it again. But, for accurate detection of low-level radioactive particles, like Alpha and trace Beta, the tube must be as exposed as possible to the outside environment. Most sensors counteract this by using a mylar sheet, stretched taught over the sensor, to maintain security with a thin barrier. If this barrier is punctured, though, it may destroy the sensor.

    All of these points need to be kept in mind while developing the weatherproof casing for the project, as well as the dimensions and capabilities of the system as a whole.

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