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Low-Level Helicopter Flies Over Baltimore To Map Background Radiation

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Mapping what none of us can see might just help spot a future terror attack with a radioactive weapon.

Alex DeMetrick reports it's an operation going on right now in Baltimore. All you have to do is look up.

It flies lower than most helicopters--the better to sniff out radiation. It made a number of passes over the terminals at the Port of Baltimore--just the kind of entry point experts worry a nuclear device or dirty bomb could come in.

Sky Eye Chopper 13 chased the specially equipped chopper.

"They're probably flying a grid pattern. They've got to cover a lot of territory in a very short period of time," said Captain Jeff Long.

But these flights aren't chasing weapons--at least not yet. The National Nuclear Security Administration is mapping normal background radiation over Baltimore and other U.S. cities.

Background radiation comes from a lot of different sources.

Grading and construction use survey gear with radioactive elements. Radiation is also emitted in broadcast transmissions. And there isn't a hospital that doesn't have X-ray equipment and other radiological treatments and tests.

Mapping radiation levels now means a future radioactive threat can be located with another flyover, spotting a source that doesn't belong.

"I think it's good to be proactive. I think it makes me feel a little bit safer, although I hope certainly that nothing bad happens," said Melissa Rocks, Baltimore.

When the survey is finished, if a nuclear threat is someday suspected, it could reduce a search for a weapon from days to hours.

Similar background radiation surveys are also being conducted in D.C. and some West Coast cities.

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