Nuclear security helicopter scours Boston Marathon route for radiation

The US Department of Energy uses two Bell 412 helicopters to survey background radiation in advance of major events.

Enlarge / The US Department of Energy uses two Bell 412 helicopters to survey background radiation in advance of major events. (credit: Grandbrothers / iStock Editorial)

This morning, a Department of Energy helicopter buzzed above cities and suburbs in eastern Massachusetts, scanning for radiation in advance of the 125th Boston Marathon. The sweep is part of security preparations to help first responders pinpoint possible “dirty bombs” and other terrorist activities before they claim any lives.

The flight started with a thorough scan of the starting line in the western suburb of Hopkinton before flying along the 26.2-mile route to the finish line in Boston, where the helicopter performed another comprehensive survey. The craft flew at low altitude the entire time, dipping below 100 feet on several occasions, according to FlightAware.

The twin-engine Bell 412 (tail number N412DE) is operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the Department of Energy that is responsible for everything from nonproliferation to maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile. The helicopter is part of the agency’s Aerial Measuring System, which routinely performs radiological surveys before major events, including presidential inaugurations, Super Bowls, and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Las Vegas.

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