Radiation-measuring flights set for Marathon route
By State House News Service | April 11, 2016, 17:22 EDT
BOSTON – A helicopter equipped with radiation-sensing technology will make several low passes over the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon route later this week to measure naturally occurring background radiation ahead of the 120th annual race next week.
Between Tuesday and Friday, the National Nuclear Security Administration will use the chopper to measure background levels along the route and slightly beyond, flying a twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter in a grid pattern at about 150 feet above the ground at speeds of about 80 miles an hour, the agency said.
“We are flying the survey at the request of the marathon coordinators and the state and local authorities,” said Shelley Laver, deputy director of public affairs for the agency. “That data that we collect is provided to said parties and gives them a baseline of what the situation looks like today.”
The agency has conducted a radiation survey in the Boston area before the Boston Marathon each of the last two years. Three years ago, terrorists detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line, killing three and injuring more than 260 people.
“The surveys can be used to compare changes in radiation levels to (1) help detect radiological threats in U.S. cities more quickly and (2) measure contamination levels after a radiological attack to assist in and reduce the costs of cleanup efforts,” the federal Government Accountability Office has said.
“If something were to occur, they would have that, and if there was suspicion of some sort of a use of nuclear or radiological source in any kind of event, federal, state and local teams would come in and assess and be able to do a comparison to the baseline,” Laver said.
The security agency said it wants the public to be aware of the scheduled flights so as to minimize alarm by low-altitude flights by the 56-foot helicopter. Laver said the agency routinely fields calls about the flights from residents, often mothers upset that the helicopter disturbed napping children.
Written by Colin A. Young