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American Shipper

Chertoff: Progress made on advanced radiation detection systems

Chertoff: Progress made on advanced radiation detection systems

   The U.S. Department of Homeland Security still plans to certify advanced radiation detection machines for use in the port environment to prevent weapons of mass destruction or radioactive-laced explosives from being smuggled into the country for a terrorist attack, Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday.

   Chertoff was originally scheduled in June to sign off on the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal — which is designed to sniff out the type of radiation being emitted from a container or trailer and help distinguish between benign and highly enriched uranium or plutonium — after field testing 80 machines at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The Government Accountability Office has said the machines are at best accurate 50 percent of the time, far short of the 95 percent performance goal and a figure which would only partially reduce the number of nuisance alarms experiences by existing radiation portal monitors.

   The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach average from 400 to 600 false alarms per day, according to DHS. On Friday, the Washington Post suggested that DHS had overhyped the capability of the advanced radiation detection machines when briefing Congress, and did not follow guidelines for doing a proper cost-benefit analysis of the system.

   “These systems remain very promising,” Chertoff said during a speech at the University of Southern California, according to a transcript.

   The DHS secretary said the department will complete additional field-testing and other “rigorous” certification measures and report back to Congress with the results before pursuing a full-scale procurement.

   Earlier in the day, Chertoff visited the Mediterranean Shipping Co. terminal at the Port of Long Beach to view a demonstration of Advanced Spectroscopic Portal monitors that will be used as part of the department’s expanded field testing.

   The department has 1,000 first-generation radiation portal monitors deployed at sea and land ports of entry and expects to be screening nearly 100 percent of inbound containers for radiation by the end of the year.

   Chertoff also described DHS’s interest in developing plans to protect against the threat of small boat attacks in the marine environment. Small boats pose a danger because they can be used to smuggle weapons, including nuclear devices, or terrorists into the country, and can be used as a waterborne improved explosive device to attack a vessel or infrastructure.

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