Honors Gallery

Tracking technology from PNNL increases security of radioactive materials while in transit  

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2023

Award Type: National

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)


The problem being solved: Hundreds of mobile radioactive materials, or sources, are transported daily for use in numerous industries, including oil and gas drilling and welding. If lost, the materials could inadvertently expose people to radiation; if stolen, they could be used by terrorists to make dirty bombs. No U.S. regulatory requirements currently exist for systematic tracking of radioactive materials during transport, largely because such tracking could not be done using available technology. 

The technology solution: The Mobile Source Transit Security (MSTS) system was developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) with the support of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Radiological Security (NNSA ORS). MSTS is an electronic, autonomous system that can travel in a vehicle or as an attachment embedded with the sources. Radiation detection devices, radiofrequency identification tags, software and communications devices provide MSTS users with real-time information about the material’s location and condition. If tampering is detected, the system alerts authorized responders with information about the threat and the material’s location.  

The tech transfer mechanisms: Using a hybrid, geographically exclusive licensing model in 2019, PNNL’s Commercialization Office drew on the strengths of each industry partner and its geographical presence. GSS has an exclusive license to commercialize the system in Latin America, while EIS has an exclusive license to commercialize it in Europe. In addition, both companies have non-exclusive licensing rights covering the United States and Canada.  

The tech transfer excellence: Proactive steps taken by PNNL led to the successful commercialization of the MSTS system. PNNL’s research team developed all components needed for the successful deployment of the MSTS, aiming to commercialize the system from the beginning. The team worked with industry stakeholders to understand operational concepts and the environments in which the technology would be deployed. Involving NNSA ORS as a government sponsor also has been essential to the maturation and long-term success of MSTS. 

The outcomes: The commercialization of MSTS brought to market a device that meets the industry’s need to directly track mobile radiological sources, enhancing public safety and security. Commercialization of this technology also will help facilitate regulatory oversight of transported radioactive materials by providing a way for companies to track and document the security of the materials during transit. 

Team Members:

Brion Burghard, Kurt Silvers, Kannan Krishnaswami, Tonya Roush, Angelica Abide, Ann Archer, Andrei Valsan, Bruce Lawler, Emiliano Santiago-Rojas, Franco Santiago

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