National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA’s Nuclear/Radiological Advisory Team conducts advanced training at sea

August 31, 2017

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Aboard the Maersk Detroit, NRAT team members executed specialized container climbing procedures designed to safely place radiation detection equipment on and around elevated or stacked cargo containers.

Members of NNSA’s Nuclear/Radiological Advisory Team (NRAT) conducted advanced maritime training aboard the motor vessel (MV) Maersk Detroit while it was on a voyage last month.

NRAT team members record data from specialized radiation detection equipment designed to detect weak or shielded radiation sources.NRAT is a deployable team of experts that provides critical scientific and technical advice to domestic and international partners in response to a nuclear or radiological threat.

Aboard Maersk Detroit, a medium-sized cargo vessel with a capacity of 6,300 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers, the team honed and expanded their advanced shipboard operational skillset. During the voyage the Maersk Detroit was fully loaded with commercial cargo as it sailed from Savannah, Georgia, to Houston.

Over the last 20 years, NRAT has developed and refined specialized tactics, techniques, and procedures to better locate and identify radioactive material on container ships.

“Combining those tactics, techniques, and procedures with specialized tools and detection instrumentation, NRAT has become the most capable entity in the world for handling this type of operation” said Lonnie Swindell, program manager for NNSA’s Office of Nuclear Incident Response. “At the same time, the team was able to address the challenges and complexities of radiological detection on a large vessel while at sea.” 

Aboard the Maersk Detroit, NRAT team members conduct radiation mapping measurements on the weather deck.NRAT, a unit of NNSA’s Office of Nuclear Incident Response, maintains a cadre of highly trained deployable radiological and nuclear experts on-call and ready to solve challenging technical problems. It is one of NNSA’s premier emergency response capabilities in support of the government’s counterterrorism community.

The NRAT unit that participated in this exercise was composed of scientists, engineers and technicians from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C., and Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

An NRAT team member climbs on stacked containers aboart the Maersk Detroit on a Savannah, Georgia-to-Houston journey.