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Radiation detectors at Staten Island, CBP initiative kicks off

Radiation detectors at Staten Island, CBP initiative kicks off

New detectors for identifying nuclear weapons and dirty bombs through ports or across land borders were shown at the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook on Staten Island in New York Wednesday.

   The so-called advanced spectroscopic portals are being tested by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) within the Department of Homeland against the regular stream of containers passing through the terminal.

   The advanced spectroscopic portal identifies the source of detected

radiation through spectroscopic isotope identification, decreasing the probability of sounding the alarm when naturally occurring radioactive materials such as granite tiles, ceramics, and kitty litter pass in front of detectors or incorrectly dismissing nuclear material. CBP has relied on handheld radioisotope identifier devices during secondary screening to identify the source of radiation. The extra step causes delays for cargo shipments.

   CBP inspectors, for example, have to resolve 350 to 400 innocuous radiation alarms on an average day at the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, according to agency officials.

   Vayl Oxford, who heads the DNDO, said at a House hearing last month that the agency plans to procure 145 advanced radiation detection machines if the department certifies the technology. Initial deployment will be in the secondary screening area, but the machines are expected to be eventually be used in primary truck exit lanes. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will make a decision on whether to go to full production in June, he said.

   Meanwhile, the Homeland Security and Energy departments announced Wednesday that operational testing is underway in Honduras and Pakistan to strengthen global supply chain security by scanning shipping containers for nuclear or radiological materials before they are allowed to depart for the United States.

   The tests represent the initial phase of the Secure Freight Initiative announced Dec. 7, which involves the deployment of integrated nuclear detection devices, X-ray or gamma ray imaging machines, and container identifying-optical character recognition devices to six foreign ports.

   Secure Freight Initiative testing in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, started on April 2. Tests in Port Qasim, Pakistan, the first port to participate in Secure Freight Initiative, began in March.

   The Secure Freight pilot test was mandated by Congress in three ports to examine the feasibility of inspecting 100 percent of containers at overseas locations before arriving in the United States. So far automated inspections are not being done on all containers at the two locations, as officials on both sides test systems and processes in preparation for full implementation, according to a program official at CBP.

   Four other Secure Freight Initiative ports are expected to initiate tests this year. They are:

   * Southampton in the United Kingdom.

   * Salalah in Oman.

   * Port of Singapore.

   * The Gamman Terminal at Port Busan in Korea.

   The last three locations are doing modified testing and will not scan every U.S.-bound container that enters their property.

   Data gathered from overseas scanning of U.S. bound containers will be transmitted in near real-time to CBP officers working in overseas ports and to the National Targeting Center. The data will be combined with other risk assessment information to improve analysis, targeting and scrutiny of high-risk containers. U.S. officials are working with their overseas counterparts on protocols for resolving alarms, which may include instructing carriers not to load a container until questions are cleared up.

   DHS plans to test the advanced spectroscopic portal at some of the Secure Freight Initiative sites.

   DHS is expected to report initial results of the Secure Freight pilot program to Congress in February 2008, or later, depending on when full-scale testing can be accomplished.

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