Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


Oak Ridge's portal of future putting emphasis on security

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 22, 1996 — Security concerns at Department of Energy (DOE) sites around the country are prompting an effort dubbed "Portal of the Future," designed to prevent sabotage, theft and terrorist activity.

While DOE already maintains tight security at its sites, some of which have supported nuclear weapons production, the task of searching as many as 1,200 incoming and outgoing vehicles is labor-intensive and time-consuming. As in many processes, automation saves time and improves performance, and that's what the Portal of the Future program is all about.

"This is really a normal progression, just like what happened at airports, where people used to search baggage by hand," said Leo Labaj of Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant's Special Projects Office. "When they started using X-rays to examine luggage, it made the process safer and faster. Instead of using people to solve problems, we have technology and equipment working to solve problems more efficiently."

The Portal of the Future project relies heavily on DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where researchers are developing a weigh-in-motion system, explosives detection systems and methods to detect hidden nuclear material. ORNL is also evaluating commercial products such as under-vehicle surveillance systems that will be used in portals of the future.

ORNL's fiber optic weigh-in-motion system enables operators to weigh vehicles entering and leaving a screening area. It allows security workers to examine weights before and after a vehicle enters a site, allowing them to look for discrepancies. The system weighs vehicles traveling at speeds of up to 5 mph.

The under-vehicle scanning system provides security personnel with a picture of the bottom of a vehicle as the vehicle is moving. The operator can manipulate the image and zoom in on suspicious areas while the vehicle travels to the next stop in the inspection sequence yet still outside the restricted area. The system also allows operators to photograph a vehicle's license plate, which allows further identification and additional security.

"It sure beats having guards examine a vehicle's undercarriage using a broomstick and mirror," Labaj said.

Terrorists or others attempting to smuggle nuclear material in or out through a Portal of the Future will also have to contend with sensitive systems that detect the small radiation levels emitted from fissionable (nuclear) material.

"This particular system has been in use at a number of facilities for several years and is being upgraded to increase the effectiveness of nuclear material detection," Labaj said.

ORNL is developing an array of detectors for explosives. One detection system relies on the fact explosives contain oxygen, nitrogen and carbon in specific ratios, which can be calculated by bombarding the target with neutrons and examining the resulting gamma-ray signatures. Another system detects the vapors or particles given off by the explosive compounds.

Another key component of the Portal of the Future is the Enclosed Space Detection System, developed by Y-12 Engineering Division. This system detects vibrations from the heartbeat of a person hiding in a vehicle or other enclosed space. The system uses sensitive seismic geophones or microwaves to detect the shock wave created by a beating heart. ORNL's Instrumentation and Controls Division provided unique data analysis algorithms that increase the effectiveness and accuracy of the detection system, which gives DOE an accurate and unobtrusive way to monitor vehicles for hidden people in vehicles as large as tractor-trailers.

In addition to its use by DOE facilities, the Portal of the Future project could tighten security at prisons, borders, refineries, military posts and a number of other state or federally operated installations.

"Prisons may have 100 or more vehicles entering and exiting per day, and portals represent the main weakness because they're a break in the perimeter," Labaj said. "This new portal utilizes a host of technologies that work together to seal that break."

Results of initial tests of these technologies are encouraging; however, they have never been combined at a single portal. Researchers at ORNL and Y-12 are assembling the Portal of the Future at Y-12, where they will demonstrate the concept and effectiveness of the combined technologies.

Funding for the project is provided by DOE's Office of Safeguards and Security. In addition to the Instrumentation and Controls Division, the following ORNL divisions are involved in the research: Chemical and Analytical Sciences, Engineering Technology, Metals and Ceramics and Waste Management and Remedial Action. Y-12 organizations involved in the research are Central Engineering Services and Protective Services. Other DOE facilities involved in the project are Los Alamos National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation. The Y-12 Plant is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems.