Overseas Program to Scan for Risk Materials

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security (DHS) and the Energy Department in December launched the first phase of the Secure Freight Initiative. The $60-million program is expected to enhance the ability of the United States to scan containers abroad for nuclear and radiological materials and to increase risk assessment of U.S.-bound containers.

The first phase involves the deployment of a combination of nuclear detection devices to six foreign ports: Port Qasim, in Pakistan; Puerto Cortes, in Honduras; Southampton, in the United Kingdom; Port Salalah, in Oman; the Port of Singapore; and the Gamman Terminal at Port Busan, in Korea. The project is also being tested at a port in Hong Kong. Beginning early this year, containers from these ports will be scanned for radiation and other risk factors before being allowed to depart for the United States. In the event of a detection alarm, homeland security personnel and host country officials will simultaneously receive an alert.

The DHS is allocating about $30 million to fund the radiography equipment, while the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is contributing $30 million to fund the installation of radiation portal monitors.

Under the program, data gathered on containers bound for the United States will be transmitted in near real time to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working in overseas ports and to the DHS National Targeting Center in the United States. This data, according to the NNSA, will be combined with other available risk-assessment information, such as currently required manifest submissions, to improve analysis, targeting, and scrutiny of high-risk containers overseas. Any detection alarm for any container would be resolved locally.

The size and complexity of larger ports, such as Singapore and Busan. require an initial limited deployment of detection equipment, according to the NNSA. The agency added that this first phase is expected to provide lessons and evidence on how this new technology can meld with the logistics, operations, and flow of commerce at each different port.

The Secure Freight Initiative is similar to the NNSA's Megaports Initiative, which works with foreign governments to install specialized radiation detection equipment in order to deter, detect, and interdict illicit shipments of nuclear and other radioactive materials. The Megaports Initiative has completed deployments of radiation detection equipment at six international seaports and is at various stages of implementation in 12 additional countries.

Similarly, the DHS's Container Security Initiative (CSI) enables CBP officers working in 50 overseas ports to inspect high-risk containers before they are loaded on vessels destined for the United States. The CSI program inspects more than 80 percent of maritime containerized cargo shipped to the United States. In addition, the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism partners the DHS with 6000 U.S. importers to prescreen all of their cargo entering the country.

To date, the DHS has deployed enough radiation portal monitors at U.S. ports to scan 80 percent of all cargo entering the United States, according to the agency.