U.S. ports get radiation monitors

U.S. ports get radiation monitors

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Customs and Border Protection has begun installing radiation monitors at U.S. seaports in an effort to prevent terrorists from smuggling nuclear weapons and radioactive materials into the country.

Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner announced the program today at Global Marine Terminal here, the first facility to get the monitors.

The monitors detect radiological materials such as plutonium that could be used in making dirty bombs and other weapons. Such devices are of particular concern because of their potential to harm large numbers of people and disrupt the U.S. economy, Bonner said.

The agency plans to install the monitors at other terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey, followed by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Bonner said Customs plans to install the monitors at all major U.S. ports by the end of the summer.

Every incoming container will have to pass through one of the monitors before it leaves the port by truck.

Customs has installed four primary monitors at Global, plus a fifth, secondary one in case any radiation is detected on the container's first passage through the monitor. The agency installed the secondary monitor, away from the others, so that trucks needing to undergo a second check would not block other trucks waiting to get through.

Each monitor costs about $80,000, but installation drives the total cost close to $200,000, Bonner said.

Customs has installed more than 200 monitors on land, primarily along the Canadian border.

Bonner said the monitors add another layer of security to supplement existing measures. Customs previously deployed more than 300 hand-held radiation detectors at every major U.S. seaport.

"Today's announcement raises the bar," he said.

Monitors are also slated to be used at foreign ports participating in Customs' Container Security Initiative. Rotterdam will be the first foreign port to get one of the monitors.