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DHS scraps nukes-in-cargo-containers scan plan

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Plans to install nuclear radiation detectors at all US ports of entry have been dropped.

Technical glitches and false alarms with temperamental kit led to a decision to ditch the $1.2bn scheme by Homeland Security officials. Instead of a nationwide rollout, only a few trial deployments of 13 prototypes will now take place: a face-saving move given the millions already ploughed into the programme. Four of the detectors, developed by defence contractor Raytheon, have already been deployed at unspecified locations.

"The [Advanced Spectroscopic Portal] will not proceed as originally envisioned," Warren Stern, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, told a Congressional Homeland Security technology subcommittee. "We will not seek certification or large-scale deployment of the ASP."

An estimated $230m has been spent over five years to develop equipment capable of detecting radiation in cargo. The project's main aim was to guard against the possibility that terrorists might smuggle nuclear weapons into the US using cargo containers, the sort of scenario that been the staple of shows like 24 for years, and one that US counterterrorism experts still take seriously, despite recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda.

Cargo lorries would have been driven through the portal, which would have detected if anything was amiss, as depicted in a Global Security Newswire story here. However field tests showed that some of the operational requirements set up at the start of the programme were "no longer valid," Stern told Congress.

Doubts about the effectiveness and reliability of the container nuke-detecting kit were first raised in a National Academy of Sciences report released in January. A more recent Government Accountability Office report expressed concerns that the project was running over-budget.

Scaled-back plans call for the use of RadSeeker, a hand-held device, and less sensitive polyvinyl toluene portal monitors. ®

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