National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA’s Radiological Assistance Program celebrates 60 years of responsiveness

September 27, 2018

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Radiological Assistance Program team members at 60th anniversary event.
Radiological Assistance Program team members at 60th anniversary event.
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.

The Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) has been on constant standby to evaluate and minimize the hazards of a radiological or nuclear incident since it was first created by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1958.

This week, NNSA and the Department of Energy invited RAP team members, Members of Congress, interagency colleagues, and other honored guests to celebrate the past achievements, current excellence, and bright future of one of our Nation’s premier first-response resources at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, D.C.

“RAP, along with their sister organizations like the Accident Response Group, the Nellis and the Andrews Nuclear and Radiological Advisory Teams, and the Aerial Measuring System all stand ready to respond to protect the public health, safety, and the security of the nation,” said Jay A. Tilden, Associate Administrator for NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation.

James F. McDonnell of the Department of Homeland Security addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.
James F. McDonnell of the Department of Homeland Security addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.

RAP consists of a cadre of scientists, engineers, and technicians well-suited to respond to any radiological emergency thanks to their extensive training. The RAP teams are based in nine geographical regions that allow the teams to efficiently assist Federal, state, local, and tribal officials in dealing with any crisis involving radioactive materials or devices across the country.

“For more than six decades, RAP’s success is a testament to the hard work, persistence, and technical skills of thousands of dedicated Americans,” said Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, current Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator, and a former RAP team member herself. “Thanks to these men and women, the mission of RAP—radiation monitoring, decontamination assistance, and medical advice and analysis—is carried forward to this day.”

Hand-held radiological search equipment displays at the RAP 60 event.
Hand-held radiological search equipment displays at the RAP 60 event.

The program included a short film that highlighted the vital missions of RAP, recounting many important contributions of the program, including incident response during the Three Mile Island reactor partial meltdown, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the Fukushima emergency.

“The thing that you guys bring is trust and confidence,” said James F. McDonnell, Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, Department of Homeland Security. “When a local guy is doing something and they’re right at the threshold of understanding the risk and the threat, when somebody can walk up and immediately start talking with authority and tell him, ‘look, it is okay, here’s what’s going on’ that’s a big deal.”

NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty and James F. McDonnell, Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction for the Department of Homeland Security, interact with RAP team members and exhibits.
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty and James F. McDonnell, Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction for the Department of Homeland Security, interact with RAP team members and exhibits.

Attendees got a chance to experience hands-on activities and exhibit demonstrations. One popular feature was the virtual-reality flight simulator, which put participants in the cockpit of a Bell 412 helicopter during an NNSA radiological search mission.

There were also a number of equipment booths showcasing hand-held search instruments – both as physical items and interactive touch displays. Posters with archival photos of prominent incident response efforts were accompanied by responders who were at the event to answer questions and offer first-hand accounts.

“Given the critical role that the Radiological Assistance Program plays in keeping America safe, it is incumbent upon policy makers—that’s us—to ensure that the program receives proper attention and the resources it needs and deserves,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Tennessee's 3rd congressional district, which includes the RAP Region Two team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Campus.

Attendees experience virtual reality simulation at the RAP 60 event.
Attendees experience virtual reality simulation at the RAP 60 event.

“Given the critical role that the Radiological Assistance Program plays in keeping America safe, it is incumbent upon policy makers—that’s us—to ensure that the program receives proper attention and the resources it needs and deserves,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Tennessee's 3rd congressional district, which includes the RAP Region Two team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Campus.

Jay Tilden moderated a panel on RAP from an interagency perspective.
Jay Tilden moderated a panel on RAP from an interagency perspective.

Attendees also learned about the importance of RAP from an interagency perspective through a panel discussion that included Tilden, Washington, D.C., Assistant Fire Chief John A. Donnelly Sr., Associate Administrator of Response and Recovery for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Corey Gruber, Argonne National Laboratory Director Paul Kearns, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Critical Incident Response Group Deputy Assistant Director Michael Schneider. The group offered views on how nuclear and radiological response has evolved over time, in terms of improving our national security and rising to meet new challenges.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee addresses the crowd at the RAP 60 event.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee addresses the crowd at the RAP 60 event.

“This isn’t easy work – and it’s not for the faint of heart. Our technical teams stand ready to search for radioactive material, support the rendering safe of threat devices, and help manage the consequences of any release of radioactive material,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. “I want to thank you. The RAP teams, those who work closely with us on this issue, and, of course, those whose vision and professionalism was critical in making RAP such a successful program.”

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry addressing the crowd at the RAP 60 event.