Nuclear scanners said ready for use at U.S. ports
Wed Apr 11, 2007 7:56 PM ET
By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The next generation of radiation-detection technology should be ready for use at U.S. ports and borders this year, helping distinguish harmless goods from nuclear material, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Tests underway at the New York Container Terminal have gone well enough that the director of the Department of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office said he was inclined to recommend deployment at 400 sites nationwide.
"We're very optimistic that when we go to the secretary this summer he will give us permission to go to production," Vayl Oxford told reporters.
Oxford is due to report to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in mid-July on the performance of three competing portals being tested alongside current technology at the terminal.
The advanced models on trial are made by Canberra Industries, part of the French group Areva; Integrated Defense Systems, a business of Raytheon Company; and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Oxford said there has been a noticeable difference in the performance of the three models but declined to elaborate, saying he could recommend going into full production with one, two or all three versions.
All three firms are prepared to ramp up production immediately, Oxford said. Last year, they were awarded $1.16 billion in contracts to develop the new technology.
The current technology can be set off by the radiation coming from a load of bananas or granite, slowing commerce when such cargo is flagged for further inspection. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach experience 400 to 500 such alerts a day, officials said.
The advanced portals are meant to reduce false alarms by distinguishing natural radiation from enriched uranium or weapons-grade plutonium.
Homeland Security officials hope to inspect 98 percent of all seaborne containers with some kind of portal monitor by the end of 2007.
Portals made by each of the firms have been installed next to each other at the New York Container Terminal, monitoring each truck as it leaves with containers that arrived by sea.
The portals also have been tested with weapons-grade nuclear material at the Nevada site where America's early nuclear bombs were tested.