Mawson’s ARPANSA Radionuclide Station nearing completion, anemometer cups go flying and what happened to the hydrogen demo project?

ARPANSA Radionuclide Station nearing completion

An International Monitoring System (IMS) is being constructed to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The IMS is being constructed to monitor compliance with the treaty. By analysing, integrating and comparing data from the IMS, the time, location and nature of a possible nuclear event can be determined. The network consists of 321 monitoring facilities and 16 radionuclide laboratories that monitor the earth for evidence of nuclear explosions in all environments. These monitoring facilities use a variety of methods to detect evidence of nuclear testing. Seismic, hydro acoustic and infrasound stations are employed to monitor the underground, underwater and atmosphere environments, respectively. The fourth technology detects radiation from atmospheric sampling.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is responsible for carrying out Australia’s radionuclide monitoring obligations to the CTBT, and also responsible for the installation, implementation and operation of 7 stations within Australia and its Territories. Australia hosts all 4 technologies totalling 21 facilities within Australia and its Territories.

Mawson is a Primary Seismic Station with two seismic monitors in the CosRay vault detecting earth vibrations. Davis is an Infrasound Station and Macquarie Island is a Radionuclide Station. Mawson is soon to become a Radionuclide Station.

In early March 2012, four orange modified shipping containers were landed at Mawson from the Aurora Australis. By the 31st March only one container had been installed on the concrete footings. In early April all four containers had been assembled and work began converting them into a 5-room Radionuclide Station. With the commissioning of the station nearing completion (once commissioned all entries to the station will have to be monitored) an opportunity existed for everyone at Mawson to be part of a tour of the facilities in order to see the process and to appreciate the work of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and carpentry trades and the work of the communication technicians in bringing this facility to this final stage of completion.

Mawson’s radionuclide station has 5 rooms in the facility: pump room, sampler room, detector room, office and ambient storage. The station will be able to detect radioactive debris from atmospheric explosions or vented by underground or underwater nuclear explosions. The presence of specific radionuclides provides unambiguous evidence of a nuclear explosion. The stations will be capable of measuring for the presence of the relevant noble gases. The process of the monitoring station is collecting particulate matter from the air onto a piece of filter material in a high volume air sampler for 24 hours. The filter paper is then compressed into a disc and placed in a chamber for 24 hours to allow natural radionuclides to decay. Finally the sample is placed on a gamma detector for 24 hours to be analysed. A computer monitors the workflow and collects the data. The data is forwarded by satellite to the International Data Centre in Vienna where it is compiled and released to countries participating in the treaty.

Once commissioned, the Mawson communication technicians will have one hour work per day, every day, in the facility.

Anemometer cups go flying and what happened to the hydrogen demo project?

This week has been dominated again by strong gusting wind and blizzards but we have nothing to show for it, as at 04.55 on Friday the anemometer cups blew off their mast and the wind has not dropped sufficiently for them to be replaced.  So for Mawson, which has a yearly average wind speed of 39km/hr, we have recorded no wind since Friday and the first day when an opportunity exists for us to replace the cups is midwinter’s day. The anemometer cups were installed on the mast and calibrated at 7:30am on Thursday 21st June.

During the week, a post on the AAD website from an American reader asked about the hydrogen demo project at Mawson.  The AAD’s Infrastructure Engineer David Waterhouse assisted with a response for Marvin from Maryland, USA.  David reported that the hydrogen demonstration project aimed to produce hydrogen using excess wind power from the Mawson turbines, store the hydrogen and then use it as a clean fuel to power a field hut camping stove, quad bike and portable generator.  The longer term goal was to use hydrogen-powered engines to generate electricity for the station, thereby further reducing Mawson’s reliance on diesel fuel.  The project successfully produced hydrogen and used it in the portable equipment, however, operating and maintaining the equipment required a great deal of specialist technical knowledge and the AAD was not able to sustain this as part of our normal operations, so the project was closed.  The AAD does not currently have plans to further pursue hydrogen as an alternative to diesel fuel for our Antarctic stations.

Preparations are well underway for our midwinter celebrations.  Pete, Vicki and Chris have organised the Mawson Midwinter Olympics starting with curling on Wednesday night in the Green Store.  This will be followed by a series of activities including ice hockey (non traditional, no shin pads required), glacier boot throwing, a BBQ and the screening of The Thing in the mechanic’s workshop and finishing on Sunday with a roast prepared by Pete.  The entertainment and more importantly the menu for Bron’s midwinter dinner are still closely guarded secrets. Tune in next week for a full report!