U.S. to begin testing inbound cargo for nuclear materials
Beginning early next year, cargo containers bound for the United States from six foreign seaports will be screened for dangerous nuclear materials. The screening effort will be the first phase in a program intended to expand the scrutiny of shipments before they reach American ports.
“No weapon of mass destruction is more formidable than a nuclear device or a radiological dirty bomb. It’s critical to see that they don’t make it into the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says.
Cargo containers destined for American ports will be driven on flatbed trucks past sensitive radiation monitors to detect possible nuclear hazards. Powerful X-ray machines will search for potential shielding intended to conceal radiological hazards.
When the detectors find potential nuclear materials, video images of the scans will be transmitted to Homeland Security’s National Targeting Center outside Washington, D.C., for further analysis. If a physical search of the suspect container does not resolve the concern, it will be barred from U.S.-bound ships.
“When in doubt, we pull it out. Then we’ll open it up and look,” Chertoff says.
The devices will screen all U.S.-bound cargo at three of the six ports — Southampton, England; Puerto Cortes, Honduras; and Port Qasim in Pakistan.
At the other three — the port of Singapore; Port Salalah, Oman; and Port Busan in South Korea — only some U.S.-bound cargo will be screened for radiological material, “due to limitations imposed by the size and complexity of those ports,” Homeland Security officials say.
Taken together, the deployments at the six ports will subject about 7 percent of U.S.-bound cargo to nuclear screening, they say.
Homeland Security officials say two factors constrain expanding the screening program more rapidly — money and permission from the countries where the ports are located. The six-port pilot program will cost $60 million.