A week after completing a simulated “dirty bomb” attack in Austin, Texas, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to conduct three days of helicopter survey flights to test for radiation over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex starting May 25.
According to the NNSA, the agency will conduct low-altitude aerial surveys during the Indianapolis 500 race taking place on May 29.
It said: “The public may see a twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter, which is equipped with radiation sensing technology and operated by [Nuclear Emergency Support Team] NEST’s Aerial Measuring System based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.”
“The helicopter will fly in a grid pattern over the areas at 200 feet or higher … at a speed of approximately 80 mph. Flyovers will occur only during daylight hours and will take roughly two hours per area to complete.”
Surveys are a “normal” part of security and emergency preparedness and are warning the public to avoid causing alarm, the NSSA said.
The Austin Police Department and NNSA did not respond to a request for comment.
The helicopter surveys come on the heels of a major radiological incident exercise by the security administration in Austin on May 16-20.
Dubbed “Cobalt Magnet 22,” the exercise involved more than 30 local, state, and federal agencies at various locations around the city to “ensure against radiological threats.”
“The men and women of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team … are trained to provide decision-makers with timely, actionable scientific advice during fearful events,” said Jay Tilden, DOE’s deputy undersecretary for counterterrorism and counterproliferation.
“Saving lives and reducing the impact of a nuclear incident requires a full understanding of what happened, who will be affected, and what the optimal response should be. NEST’s bread and butter is providing that information to local, state, and federal leaders as rapidly as possible.”
The NNSA said those city residents in the exercise zone would likely see field teams in protective clothing using radiological monitoring and detection equipment, low-flying aircraft gathering data, and first-responders.
Officials said the exercise would simulate a dirty bomb to enable first-responders to practice giving emergency relief and restoring “essential services.”
Cobalt Magnet 22 was the result of 18 months of planning for implementation.
In an unrelated development, the NNSA announced the successful removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from three Japanese sites to the United States after four years of preparation.
The removal results from years of “close cooperation and hard work made all the more challenging by the pandemic and travel restrictions. It speaks to the strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan,” said Corey Hinderstein, the NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation.
“Permanently eliminating nuclear material that could be used in a weapon is just one of the ways NNSA and its international partners help make the world a safer place every day.”
The nuclear material is awaiting disposition at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.