Local News

Camp Lejeune Monitors Entrances For Radioactive 'Dirty Bomb'

Posted February 9, 2003 12:45 p.m. EST

— Camp Lejeune Marines are on the lookout for "dirty bombs."

The base, the largest Marine base in the Eastern United States, is one of four across the country taking part in a new detection effort.

The government is testing monitors that detect the radioactive bombs. The monitors are hidden inside orange traffic barriers, and they can scan passing vehicles for radioactive material.

A dirty bomb is more powerful than other bombs because it can spread radioactive material over a wide area.

Unlike a nuclear weapon, which unleashes tremendous power and heat when it detonates, a dirty bomb is a conventional explosive with radioactive material wrapped around it.

The blast is intended to spread radioactivity, and fear, over a wide area.

Detectors capable of tracing radiation from passing traffic have been installed along U.S. 17 in Onslow and Jones counties, as well as other locations.

"Sensors are being located on base and at seven locations in the community," said Col. Carlos Hollifield, director of installation safety and security for Camp Lejeune. "The reason they are being installed in the local community is they're using a layered defense concept that would provide early warning."

The systems have gamma, neutron and spectral analysis detectors. They vary in size from 3 feet by 3 feet to 4 feet by 7 feet.

Data from the sensors will be transmitted back to Camp Lejeune for analysis.

Radioactive materials used to check the sensitivity of the detectors include Americium, a metal used in smoke detectors, and Cobalt 60, which is used to sterilize surgical instruments.

"Everything used as a radiation source for the demonstration is something widely used and safely used in other applications," Hollifield said.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the military office responsible for countering weapons of mass destruction, is overseeing the research.

Similar tests are going on at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia. Testing also is under way at an Army base in Missouri, and an Air Force base in New Mexico, the Jacksonville Daily News reported Saturday.

An agency spokeswomen said Saturday she did not know which installations were involved in the test.

"I know that we are involved in several different projects in several different locations," Maj. Linda Ritchie said.

Demonstrations of the monitors are scheduled later this month for community leaders and representatives of Defense Department.

"What they are doing is proving the technology works," Hollifield said. "If the technology proves to be beneficial, then it could be incorporated into a national system."