U.S., Belgian Officials to Install Radiation Detectors at Antwerp

Hidden shipments of fissile material are at issue; countries plan joint effort to detect hidden cargo


U.S. and Belgian officials have signed an agreement to install radiation detection equipment at Antwerp, one of Belgium's busiest seaports, to check for hidden shipments of fissile material, the two nations announced last week.

Antwerp will be the latest port to receive such equipment under the Megaports Initiative, which is run by the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration. Placing radiation detection devices at overseas ports could prevent groups like al Qaeda from smuggling a nuclear bomb into the United States, NNSA officials say.

"Implementation of the Megaports Initiative in Belgium will not only strengthen security at one of the largest seaports in the world, but it will also help to put a stop to terrorist attempts to use the global maritime industry for malicious purposes," Tom Korogolos, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, said in the Nov. 24 announcement.

In addition to providing NNSA-developed radiation detection equipment, U.S. officials will train Antwerp employees in detecting, deterring and interdicting radioactive materials, the notice states.

Through the initiative, NNSA hopes to install radiation monitoring devices in 20 "high-risk" ports worldwide by 2012, an agency official told Inside the Pentagon in March (ITP, March 18, p5). With support from the Dutch government, Megaports already is up and running at Rotterdam.

Megaports is an extension of NNSA's Second Line of Defense initiative, an effort to prevent illicit fissile material trafficking in Russia using radiation detectors at border crossings, airports and seaports. Last year, Congress granted NNSA authority to expand the Second Line of Defense project to major international seaports, dubbed megaports, across the globe.

Radiation detection monitors used at Megaports Initiative sites can sense gamma and neutron radiation, which means they can detect highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the agency official said. Items to be scanned can be passed through sensors as they are being loaded to avoid extensive disruption of activity at the ports.

The labs developed the technology more than 20 years ago, and it is "tried and true," the official added.

On the home front, the Department of Homeland Security is implementing a number of measures intended to detect terrorist activity at major U.S. ports like Los Angeles (ITP, June 24, p21). Based on direction from Congress under the Maritime Transportation Security Act, those measures are designed to "build upon the layers of security that are already in place at the nation's ports," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a June 21 speech in that city.

"Ports like this one are the gateway to the vastly interconnected global economy," he said. "Ninety-five percent of all international overseas trade moves through our nation's ports."

The Coast Guard is playing a key role in carrying out the measures, which include enhanced identification checks for those participating in international trade, additional canine detection teams at ports, X-ray machines on all large cruise ships and increased security patrols.

DHS also is implementing the Container Security Initiative, which involves using U.S. Customs Service officials overseas to target ship containers for screening, and the Custom-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which offers benefits to businesses that take steps to secure their own supply chains.