Port of Oakland: First major US container port with radiation portal monitors at every terminal



Port of Oakland, Oakland, CA, USA


US Customs and Border Protection demonstrates newly completed radiation detection systems at Oakland seaport

April 26, 2005 was a beautiful sunny day at the Port of Oakland on the San Francisco Bay. It was the kind of day at the waterfront that makes one think about sailing, going for a long walk at the beach or taking a stroll in the park. It would seem that seaport security would be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. In fact, it was exactly that perfect spring day that US Customs and Border Protection and the Port of Oakland focused on the completion of a security milestone.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Port of Oakland held a joint news conference Tuesday, April 26, 2005 to demonstrate CBP’s newly completed Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) systems at the Oakland seaport. The 25 portals are screening all international container traffic exiting the Port of Oakland for sources of radiation. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) worked closely with the Port of Oakland’s Maritime and Engineering Divisions to facilitate the nearly US$4 m project at the port’s seven international seaport terminals.

“Oakland is the first port in the nation where the RPMs are completely installed and operable,” stated CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. “RPMs are just one of the many layers of defense CBP uses in carrying out our priority mission of protecting our country from terrorists and terrorist weapons. We are committed to technology that allows the economy in the Bay Area to thrive, but more importantly, to protect its citizens from harm,” added Bonner.

US CBP, through Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL), is implementing an initiative to install RPMs within the United States at various ports which handle international cargo. These devices are being installed to meet current requirements that all import marine cargo containers be screened for radioactive material. PNNL, as programme manager for CBP, contracted with the Port of Oakland to complete schematic designs that were prepared by PNNL, prepare construction documents suitable for bidding, and administer construction contracts to install the RPMs at the marine terminals located at the Port of Oakland. Port of Oakland’s Deputy Executive Director Joe Wong commented, “As the fourth busiest containerport in the United States, moving some US$30 b worth of goods annually, we are very pleased to have this new technology in place and operating.”

“Every international container will be scanned before it exits the container yard, giving us a high level of confidence that it does not contain radioactive material,” remarked Nat Aycox, CBP Director of Field Operations in San Francisco. “Our inspection system of targeting high risk containers, gammaray scans and physical inspections, complemented by RPMs, markedly increases the safety of maritime cargo,” added Aycox. The first Port of Oakland sites came on line in December of 2004. Installation of the RPM systems was completed at the final two sites at the Oakland seaport in March 2005.

Installation of the RPMs

The RPMs take advantage of existing technology to provide CBP with another level of screening for import containers exiting the marine terminals enroute to their final US destination. Customs still runs a 100 per cent check of all cargo manifests through their threat assessment programmes to identify anomalies or containers of ‘special interest;’ they continue to screen selected containers with low energy or high energy screening devices; they physically open and inspect containers; and now they also use the RPMs as an additional check against radiation emission and potential Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s), providing an integrated approach.


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