“Watchful Guardian” remote monitoring

10 August 2023

Argonne National Laboratory researchers are pioneering the development of remote monitoring systems technologies to ensure the safety, security, and safeguards (3S) of radioactive material during storage, transportation, and disposal. Argonne’s Kevin A. Brown and Yung Liu outline the watchful guardian approach.

Above: Argonne National Laboratory is located in Lemont Illinois (Source: Argonne National Laboratory)

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are committed to ensuring the safety, security, and safeguards (3S) of nuclear and other radioactive material in nuclear fuel cycle facilities and during storage, transportation, and disposal. To support that global mission, they are pioneering the development and use of ARG-US “Watchful Guardian” remote monitoring systems technologies.

ARG-US technologies consist of two major platforms – both of which are patented. The first is radio-frequency identification (RFID) surveillance tags with sensors for drum-type packages in storage and transportation with fixed readers, or an “all-in-one” CommBox. The second is Remote Area Modular Monitoring (RAMM) systems for nuclear fuel cycle facilities and the TRAVELER for real-time tracking and monitoring of high-value and risk-significant materials in operating conveyances.

RFID Surveillance Tag

The foundation of ARG-US RFID is the surveillance tag.

The universal form factor tags can be used on a variety of drum types in diverse applications. They house a variety of sensors, including temperature, humidity, shock, and radiation (gamma, neutron), as well as a tactile seal sensor for detecting breaches in seal integrity, both natural and tampering. For long-term power and reliable monitoring, the tags have 10-year-life batteries. This proven monitoring technology was licensed to Evigia Systems, Inc., in 2014.


CommBox enables item-based monitoring and tracking of packages through ARG-US RFID tags with multiple sensors, a reader (interrogator), a rechargeable Li-ion battery, and cellular/satellite communication gear – all in one Pelican case, making installation and use simple. Commercial shippers can place a CommBox inside a transport trailer to monitor packages equipped with RFID tags. Monitoring during transportation is possible because the RFID reader inside a CommBox communicates with RFID tags on the packages and relays data via cellular and satellite modems.

CommBox can be reused on different vehicles and shipments. It is compatible with DOE’s proven TRANSCOM tracking and communication system. As a result, CommBox can be implemented simply and at lower cost than conventional tracking technology.

Argonne researchers are also exploring options for miniaturization by developing a small form-factor reader, using rechargeable Li-ion batteries and energy harvesting for improved power supply, and enhancing communication capabilities with cellular 5G and satellite technology.


ARG-US RAMM is a patented wired and wireless sensor network (WSN) communication system for monitoring nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Each RAMM unit houses a suite of ARG-US radiation and other sensors that can be customized for the application environment. Pre-configured RAMM units can monitor an entire facility and report data – even during disruptive events – by using primary and backup power supplies and multiple wired and wireless communication media. The wired network, which provides normal, baseline data collection and communication, also keeps RAMM unit batteries charged via power over Ethernet (PoE). The architecture is flexible and expandable – integrating additional RAMM units can extend the monitoring area and communication.

Several prototype RAMM units have been installed at three Argonne facilities: the Alpha-Gamma Hot Cell Facility (AGHCF), the Argonne Tandem Linear Accelerator System (ATLAS), and the Low Energy Accelerator Facility (LEAF). These prototype units are produced by a contract manufacturer that is interested in licensing the technology.

A derivative of RAMM is RAMM for temperature measurement, or RAMM-TM, which can be used to detect spent fuel canister breach caused by chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking (CISCC), obstruction of air vents, and radiation levels to reduce risks to safety and public health and to protect the environment.

Argonne plans to implement RAMM at select facilities at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) facilities in the near future. The successful operation of the prototypes is expected to drive the adoption of RAMM by other DOE and industry sites and facilities.


TRAVELER is a cellular/satellite/GPS and wireless sensor network (WSN) communications technology for real-time tracking and monitoring of risk-significant materials in rail, ship, or truck shipments. Like other ARG-US technologies, the TRAVELER issues automatic alarms for safety or security and safeguards incidents and provides information essential to emergency responders for mitigation and recovery operations.

In 2017, Argonne demonstrated the real-world performance of TRAVELER during a rail shipment of a demo cask from Baltimore, MD, to Pueblo, CO. In 2019, the real-world performance of TRAVELER was demonstrated again during a truck shipment of pressurized water reactor (PWR) fresh fuel assemblies from Columbia, South Carolina, to Wolf Creek, Kansas.

Packaging University offers innovation in education

To help meet demand for expertise in nuclear packaging, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Packaging Certification Program offers training courses through its Packaging University. Since 2015, Argonne National Laboratory has held graduate-level training courses on packaging and transportation of nuclear and other radioactive material as part of DOE’s Packaging University.

Above: Argonne’s Yung Liu leads discussion during a training course (Source: Argonne National Laboratory)

Each course is conducted by subject matter experts who cover topics ranging from applying the ASME Code and quality assurance (QA) on packaging design and fabrication to U.S. domestic and international transport security, transport emergency response, and decontamination and decommissioning and facility/site closure. The courses have been convened annually onsite at Argonne, except for 2020 and 2021 because of COVID19. Although the pandemic prevented in-person attendance, it provided opportunities for developing advanced-technology learning tools.

Explained Yung Liu, Program Manager, Packaging Certification and Life Cycle Management, Argonne National Laboratory, “We have developed web-based apps that automate categorization of the materials to be transported and generate transport security plans with security provisions that satisfy all regulatory requirements for transportation of nuclear and other radioactive material. We have also developed web-based apps for geofencing, geographic information systems (GIS), and extended virtual reality scenarios for the transport emergency response course. Additional tools include audience survey and response systems in class exercises and exams, providing metrics to assess how successfully students met class learning objectives.”

Details on these courses can be found in the papers and posters presented by the Argonne authors at PATRAM, held in Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, on the French Riviera from 11-15 June, 2023.

For information on upcoming Packaging University courses at Argonne visit https://rampac.energy.gov/home/tracking-and-monitoring.

CommBox enables item-based monitoring and tracking of packages (Source: Argonne National Laboratory)

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