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Lloyd’s List: Hutchison takes lead in testing nuclear material scanners

By August 10, 2012No Comments

Original article from Lloyd’s List.

August 10th, 2012
By Janet Porter

GLOBAL port operator Hutchison has teamed up with Decision Sciences to test the world’s first passive scanner able to detect radioactive materials hidden in containers that could be used to build a dirty bomb.

Demonstrations are taking place this week at Freeport Container Port, the transshipment hub in the Bahamas located just 65 miles from Florida, with live small scale operations to start on Monday.

Only import cargoes will be scanned, however, not the hundreds of containers switched each day between international services.

The multimode passive detection system has been developed by Decision Sciences of the US in partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory in response to demands from Washington for all inbound containers to be screened.

Mandatory scanning was due to have started on July 1, but has now been postponed until 2014, giving more time for ports to install the necessary equipment.

The challenge has been to develop a device that is able to identify the contents of a container that could pose a nuclear or radioactive threat to the US without disrupting cargo handling operations. The equipment is able to scan vehicles, railcars and containers, and can see through dense shielding to determine the nature of the potential threat.

The tests carried out this week “went perfectly”, Decision Sciences president and chief executive Stanton Sloane told Lloyd’s List, the scanner distinguishing between naturally occurring radiation from products such as cat litter and illegal weapon-grade shipments.

Hutchison has no firm ties to Decision Sciences, said senior vice president Gary Gilbert who is responsible for worldwide security but will vet the operations as it prepares to scale up container scanning in its origin ports around the world to meet anticipated legal requirements.

Eventually, a nominal charge is likely to be levied on each scanned container to cover the cost of the equipment and maintenance.

The machine, shown to shipping lines, security firms and government officials in Freeport, is able to clear a 40 ft container in 30 seconds.

“That means we can for the first time help to assure cargo safety from nuclear threats without slowing commerce,” said Dr Stanton.

Because the system uses only naturally occurring cosmic ray muons, rather than X-rays, there is no risk to people, animals or cargo.

Freeport was chosen because of its proximity to the US, enabling American officials to attend the demonstrations.

The cost of each machine is put at around $3m-$3.5m, but Decision Sciences will fund the Freeport scanner and use it as a showcase to security experts and potential customers.

Hutchison has already introduced radiation-detection straddle carriers.

Read the original article here.

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