Radiation Tech: Security for Global Ports?


Passport Systems, Inc has affirmed that it has developed radiation detection technology that can help domestic and foreign seaports around the world thwart nuclear terrorists seeking to transport radioactive materials.

Dr Robert Ledoux, President, CEO and Director of Passport Systems, Inc., offered reassurances to lawmakers concerned about whether effective and efficient cargo scanning technology is available.

Dr Ledoux said: “At the hearing, subcommittee members cited the need for technology that can accurately detect nuclear threats and contraband without significantly slowing the shipping process.

“We have developed that technology and it is already being deployed at the port in Boston. It is ready to be deployed to other ports in the US and internationally. Our SmartScan 3D cargo scanner can protect people and property from dirty bombs and other nuclear threats.”

Dr Ledoux said the SmartScan 3D system automatically identifies any radioactive material, including ‘actinides’ that may signal a weapon of mass destruction or smuggled special nuclear materials, after the cargo has been unloaded onto conveyances.

The non-intrusive cargo inspections also detect explosives and contraband such as drugs, tobacco, and firearms – a growing concern among security professionals and lawmakers.

The need for such technology was a focus of a joint hearing on July 7 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

During the hearing, officials repeatedly testified that “gaps remain” in securing nuclear and radiological materials around the globe despite progress over the last 20 years, and acknowledged the challenges that the US faces in protecting its ports from smuggled materials.

Jennifer Grover, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the Government Accounting Office, said that “with about 12 million cargo shipments arriving each year in the US – the US maritime ports do indeed remain vulnerable to smuggling.

“CBP {U.S. Customs and Border Protection} has determined that it does not have the resources to examine every shipment. So instead what they are doing is counteracting the smuggling threat by identifying and examining at risk shipments. Yet ensuring this approach functions properly is indeed still a work in progress.”

Passport is set to unveil SmartScan at a first of its kind facility at the Massachusetts Port Authority, Port of Boston’s Conley Container Terminal.

As noted at the subcommittee hearing, a limited X-ray scanning process is used at most ports today. Dense or thick objects, which could hide nuclear threats or contraband, require that individuals open the containers and inspect the objects by hand; it slows the shipping process by hours and the process could be dangerous for inspectors.

By contrast, SmartScan doesn’t require that containers be opened. The technology scans a container, provides a three-dimensional map of the cargo, and sends alerts to flag suspicious cargo. Within minutes, it determines if an actinide is present and whether it is a bomb.

SmartScan works by trucks leaving the port with cargo conveyed through a 176-foot tunnel. The cargo is inspected using high-resolution X-rays and other passive radiation detection methods with proprietary technologies.

Three-dimensional images based on the effective atomic number and density are generated as the system measures photon signals to determine anomalies, such as explosives or radioactive material. Additional technology determines if special nuclear materials are present.

At the hearing, Wayne Brasure, Acting Director of DNDO, noted that DNDO is developing and evaluating emerging technologies to detect shielded materials while clearing benign conveyances at land and maritime ports.

“One such effort is a project with the Massachusetts Port Authority, DHS Science and Technology's Border and Maritime Security Division, and the United Kingdom Home Office to develop and evaluate the next generation non-intrusive inspection imaging equipment,” Mr. Brasure testified. “The technology will be evaluated in the Port of Boston next year and, if successful, will demonstrate a next generation integrated system capable of detecting both nuclear material and contraband.”

Dr Ledoux concluded: “America needs to ensure that foreign governments are adopting the most comprehensive scanning equipment available,” he said. “We are working to have SmartScan installed at ports around the world. That will make our country safer.”

Fact File: Passport Systems was founded to develop and commercialise new technologies to address the threats facing the world in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Founded by a team of MIT technologists and entrepreneurs, Passport Systems has developed two cutting-edge product lines: The SmartScan 3D Automated Cargo Inspection System, based on nuclear resonance fluorescence technology, and the SmartShield Networked Radiation Detection System, using advanced data fusion algorithms.

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