Having already stopped shipments of Helium-3 (3He) gas for use in neutron detection for Radiation Portal Monitors (RPM), the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) beginning in FY ’16 expects to stop supplying the gas as government furnished material for other radiation detection systems as long as there are non-3He neutron detector systems available in the commercial marketplace.

The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, says there are viable alternatives to 3He for use in subsystems that can be integrated into radiation detection systems.

“Testing that has occurred over the past several years have found viable technologies for backpacks and handhelds [radiation detection systems], however industry has not integrated these subsystems into new commercial products to replace legacy systems that are based on 3He neutron detectors,” DNDO says in a FedBizOpps.gov posting. “DNDO anticipates industry can commercialize alternative technologies for neutron detection into radiological detection systems by the end of FY ’15.”

Following a severe shortage for 3He dating back to 2008, DNDO began exploring alternatives to the critical gas, which is a byproduct of tritium decay—tritium being a key ingredient in nuclear weapons—for use in radiation detection equipment (HSR, Nov. 25, 2009). That shortage prompted the federal government to quit supplying 3He for RPM production in late 2009 and to begin market surveys for new sources of 3He (HSR, Dec. 8, 2009).

With 3He-based radiation detection systems that DHS has already deployed and is still procuring, DNDO on a case-by-case basis may continue to supply the gas as GFE. However, DNDO says that “If an alternative radiation detector exists as a commercial product, meets user-specified requirements, and is suitable for their mission critical operations, the 3He-based neutron detector system will not be procured by DHS.”

DNDO is encouraging state, local, tribal and territorial governments to purchase radiation detection systems that have alternative technologies to 3He although DHS will consider providing the gas on a case-by-case basis through FY ’15 for equipment purchased with Homeland Security Grant funds. However, if alternative detection technologies exist that meet user requirements, then the gas will not be provided.

If manufacturers of radiation detection equipment are capable of providing 3He gas from their own supplies, then DHS components, state, local, tribal and territorial governments can procure these systems at any time, DNDO says.