Heightened public concerns about the possibility of radiation leakage due to the proximity of the Los Conchas Fire to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to send a twin-engine plane equipped with sensors to collect air samples above the facility. So far, air samples from the smoke show nothing abnormal in the air, and lab managers assert that all nuclear materials are secure.
The airborne sensing platform, which was developed in part by scientists at LANL, has been deployed for multiple disaster scenarios.
“The twin-engine plane, which can take digital photographs and video as well as thermal and night images, was sent to New York City to take air samples after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It has flown over wildfires and areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina. It monitored the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It also helped locate debris from the disintegrated space shuttle Columbia shuttle.”
The airplane is know as the Airborne Spectral Photometric Collection Technology (ASPECT) and it is tuned to provide critical information regarding the size, shape, composition and concentration of gas plumes. ASPECT has two primary sensors mounted aboard an Aerocommander 680 aircraft. The first sensor, called a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer, detects and locates chemical vapors, and it can peer through smoke and dust to get an accurate measurement of the location and concentration of the vapor plume. The second sensor, a high-resolution Infrared Line Scanner, records an image of the ground below and plume information. Together the information provides a high-resolution map of the land surface and the chemical vapor plume.
Read this ABC News story for more details on the fire.