Nuclear Engineering Division

Packaging Certification and Life-Cycle Management Group

Argonne/DOE ARG-US Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology for Tracking Nuclear Materials in Storage, Transportation

ARG-US is an integrated radio frequency identification (RFID) system that consists of tags, readers, application software, a database, and web applications. ARG-US technology is unique in that it tracks the physical locations and monitors the environmental conditions and the state of health of containers of nuclear materials in storage and transportation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any abnormal situation — such as a loss of seal, a sudden shock, or a rise in the temperature or humidity in or around the container — can trigger an alarm that will alert appropriate personnel, including emergency responders, so that they can take immediate action.

The system is readily deployable; it can be used to track relatively few containers in storage at multiple facilities of a given site or many thousands of containers in major storage sites across the country — the system can even be used to track containers during transport in hundreds of trucks and/or rail cars crisscrossing the country.


RFID system for management of nuclear materials packages in transportation and storage

Interior view of an Mk-II RFID tag, showing seal sensor and expansion slot. Click image to enlarge.

The Mk-II RFID tag has a suite of sensors for seal integrity, temperature, humidity, shock, and battery strength. The RF and antenna boards are stacked in the center compartment; the compartment on the right houses four lithium-ion primary cells and a smart battery management board designed to extend the battery life beyond 10 years. The empty compartment on the left is an expansion space for additional sensors (e.g., radiation dosimeter, gas sensors) and functionalities (e.g., memories). The T-shaped ribbon in the center is the seal sensor — a dual-bolt design customized for attachment to a Model 9975 package by using two bolts that, when tightened, senses low resistance (kΩ) via a circuit connection. When the bolts are loosened, the resistance jumps to MΩ, and a tag-initiated alert/alarm is automatically sent instantly. The seal integrity sensor is passive and does not drain power from the battery. Bolted on drums or placed strategically in buildings or transport vehicles, the ARG-US tags can report the sensory information 24/7 to readers via the 433-MHz radio wave.

The ARG-US tags have a highly flexible form factor and can be mounted practically anywhere. Regulatory approval for the ARG-US RFID tags has been obtained in the Certificates of Compliance for the 9975, 9977, and 9978 drums.


Readers communicate with the tags via 433-MHz radio waves. For the transportation application, a fixed reader is mounted inside a trailer and above pallets of drums. Power and Ethernet cables are used for communication between trailer and cab. For the storage application, readers can be mounted at fixed locations or on a wheeled platform, which is particularly suited for storage of relatively small number of containers (e.g., ≈50) in modest rooms with size comparable to the range of the reader (≈100 m, or 300 ft). A self-contained RFID mobile platform (fixed reader mounted on a pole, control laptop, network box, and cabinet on wheels) can be deployed easily because it is essentially "plug-and-play," requiring only an AC power outlet and a local network connection. A mobile platform can be wheeled to multiple storage rooms, or multiple platforms (one in each storage room) can be used and networked, just like PCs and printers networked in offices.

Innovative Application Program Interface

ARG-US has an innovative application program interface (API) that consists of two stand-alone and web-enabled versions, each of which can be customized to suit the facility operations and transportation:

  • ARG-US OnSite — Software for storage applications that can be tailored for specific sites
  • ARG-US TransPort — Contains features unique to transportation, such as mapping and geographic information system functions

The simple connection of the ARG-US OnSite systems to a local information technology network in multiple storage facility buildings at a given site enables each system to function as a sensor node that can be connected, via Internet, to a central database and web server. This configuration enables instant access to information by local and authorized off-site users from anywhere in the country and worldwide — including DOE Headquarters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA is the world's central intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the nuclear field.

Data Processing

The data are processed by a control computer running the API ARG-US and transmitted to local and central databases and web servers. Users can access data for specific drums for manifest data, sensor information, handling history, and other parameters in real time. If any readings exceed preset thresholds, automatic alerts/alarms are triggered instantly. The database can be searched on the basis of various criteria (such as contents, age, and storage conditions) so that a statistical sampling strategy for the radioactive materials packages can be designed for the facility's materials surveillance program.

The data are continuously updated and passed on to local and central database and web servers in real time. The same information is also passed on to the facility operators and stakeholders.

The data can be (and will be) used by DOE Field Office and Headquarters and by field personnel to make decisions, for example, about materials surveillance programs at the DOE Savannah River Site, the Nevada National Security Site, and elsewhere and about treaty safeguards verifications in the future, as well as by emergency response and law enforcement teams in the event of transportation incidents.

Command Center

A key component of ARG-US is the pilot RFID Command Center, which was commissioned in 2010 at Argonne National Laboratory. This center — the first of its kind — serves many functions. The pilot center employs modest, state-of-the-art server, communication, and visualization equipment for research and development in information assurance and cyber security, areas that are critical for wireless and wired data communication to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The center also functions as a facility for training personnel in the use and certification of the ARG-US RFID tracking and monitoring system for DOE and other government agencies.

RFID Command Center

For more details on the ARG-US RFID system, Argonne has prepared a 6-minute movie on the ARG-US RFID system.

Technology Benefits

The benefits of ARG-US include:

  • Enhanced safety, safeguards, security, and materials accountability;
  • Reduced radiation exposure and the need for manned surveillance;
  • Real-time access to status (i.e., state of health) and event history data, including continuous monitoring of environmental conditions for packaging aging management, and life extension; and
  • Overall cost-effectiveness.

In addition to these benefits, ARG-US technology can be applied to reduce domestic and global threats and enhance critical infrastructure protection when used to track sealed sources and by-product materials that could be used for radiological dispersion devices, or dirty bombs.

Because of the dynamic nature of the technology, developments have been rapid and will lead to even more applications that will benefit the safety and security of our nation. For example, the Mk-III surveillance tag now incorporates a radiation sensor and a flexible programmable expansion interface that enables the addition of virtually any kind of additional sensor capability. Because of the on-board processing capability, ARG-US tags can be used as the basis for a unified communications architecture when connected to other security devices, such as door and gate sensors or cages with embedded fiber-optic cables.

Related Multimedia

Video: ARG-US - The Watchful Guardian

Argonne has prepared a 6-minute movie on the ARG-US RFID system.

Related Information

See also:
Last updated: 01/23/17