Starting Monday, a helicopter registered to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), equipped with specialized sensors, will measure and map radiation levels across downtown Washington, D.C. and the surrounding metro area, read a government press release.
NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) aircraft, a Bell 412 utility helicopter outfitted “with sensitive, state-of-the-art passive radiation sensing technology” will fly across the region at “150 feet (or higher) above the ground at a speed of approximately 80 mph” to conduct “aerial surveys” of radiation levels as part of security efforts ahead of the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.
The low-flying flights across the District will continue through Nov. 6, at a rate of about two per day. The agency wants to survey and update its radiation maps in the event of a nuclear or radiological incident.
NNSA’s helicopter has already been spotted over a DC neighborhood.
— Helicopters of DC (@HelicoptersofDC) October 19, 2020
The Warzone said in early June NNSA’s helicopter was deployed in the District but wasn’t certain if radiation readings were scheduled or in response to civil unrest.
“There’s been no such incident in Washington, D.C., but NNSA does send the AMS-equipped helicopters to conduct mapping surveys of background radiation ahead of significant public events, such as presidential visits or Super Bowls. The helicopters then fly additional patrols of the area afterward to monitor for any concerning changes,” said The Warzone.
Jay Tilden, NNSA’s Associate Administrator for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation, told Defense News last year, “We deploy the helicopter right as a security bubble is being established around a major public event.”
“Oftentimes in a city, you’ll find a hospital or a cancer treatment center, and so that will pop up depending on the location of the source and what it’s in [and] that will show [in the mapped data] and it will allow then the local and/or the federal officials to determine that it should be there,” said Tilden in 2019.
The agency’s latest statement said: “NNSA is making the public aware of the upcoming flights, so citizens who see the low-flying aircraft are not alarmed.”
While NNSA indicates the radiation sniffing helicopter is being deployed for matters related to the presidential inauguration – maybe – or perhaps – there are more imminent threats situated around or after the Nov. 3 elections.