DHS’ Nuclear Detection Efforts Continue on Smaller Scale

By Stew Magnuson

The Department of Homeland Security has canceled the much-maligned Advanced Spectroscopic Portal program.

The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office could never get the technology to work well enough, and estimated costs to deploy the portals swelled, so after six years with nothing to show for the millions spent, the ax fell.

They were intended to scan shipping containers for radioactive materials. Even if the portals did work, no one has ever answered how they could be deployed in so many disparate foreign ports, how much that would cost, and who would pay for the monumental bill to acquire, operate and maintain them. 

Huban Gowadia, acting director of DNDO, was called before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technologies, and asked, what’s next?

As far as a large follow-on program, with a one-size-fits-all technology like the ASP, which were supposed to be large enough for a truck to drive through, there are no such plans, she said.
“Future strategies may not be a one-for-one portal exchange; we may come to using a mix of mobile and agile technologies in conjunction with the systems that are already out there,” she said. Handheld detectors are one possibility, she said.

The DNDO was separated out of DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate in 2005 specifically to tackle the radiation portal problem.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who authored some of the original legislation that created the office, noted that there were no plans that he knew of to recapitalize the old radiation portals. The first-generation portals — still in use — are infamous for false alarms that slow down cross-border traffic. Kitty litter, bananas and bathroom tiles are among the benign objects that have set them off.

DNDO is in the process of studying how to upgrade the existing portals, which are found in U.S. ports of entry, Gowadia said.

“I think we’ll have some answers for you — better answers for you — as we go through our planning this year,” she said.

The DNDO intends to spend more than $1 billion on nuclear detection technologies over the next five years, according to office plans.

Topics: Homeland Security, MaritimePort Security, Science and Technology

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