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24 January 2005

U.S. Using New Weapon to Stop Smuggling of Materials for Nuclear Arms

Radiation detection devices to be used at U.S.-Mexico border

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. officials have announced plans to employ new high-tech radiation detection devices to stop any attempt to smuggle into the United States radiological materials used in nuclear weapons.

In a January 21 statement, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that the ground-mounted devices --- known as Radiation Portal Monitors -- will be used at the California city of Calexico on the U.S.-Mexico border to increase CBP's "already formidable detection capabilities" to screen cars and trucks entering the United States.

The portals are being installed at car and truck lanes at the Calexico border crossing and will start operation in the latter part of January 2005, the CBP said. The equipment will act as extremely sensitive receiving antennas to detect radiation sources.

Al Miramontes, assistant port director at the Calexico border station, said the portals are "passive devices." This means, he said, that the portals "do not emit any radiation and are completely safe."

He added: "The best way to prevent a terrorist attack is by preventing terrorists or terrorist weapons from entering the nation. These portals now being deployed at the Calexico port will help ensure that our border and our nation is secure."

The CBP said the portal monitors are capable of detecting various types of radiation emanating from nuclear devices, dirty bombs, special nuclear materials, and isotopes commonly used in medicine and industry. The devices will sense any radiation sources as each car and truck passes and alert CBP officers, if necessary.

In addition to the portal monitors, CBP officers currently use hand-held radiation isotope identifier devices and belt-mounted personal radiation detectors at major airport, seaport, and land border crossings in the United States. Together, these devices, when fully deployed, will passively screen each person, car, and truck entering the United States to ensure that any radioactive sources are identified, said the CBP.

Calexico is also where a new express lane for cargo trucks was opened January 17, as part of a U.S.-Mexico bilateral program to counter terrorism and promote trade.

The CBP said that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Mexican Interior Secretary Santiago Creel formally opened that day the Calexico Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lane leading from Mexico into the Calexico port's east cargo facility. The express lane aims to ensure security and safety while spurring commerce between the two nations, said the CBP.

Mexico is one of the United States' largest trading partners, and "it is critical that we prevent terrorists from infiltrating the commercial chain to launch an attack," Ridge said at the dedication ceremony opening the FAST lane.

Ridge said the express lane will "enhance the security and safety of the commercial flow of goods" on the border while "enhancing the economic prosperity of both countries."

Calexico, across the border from the Mexican city of Mexicali, is the sixth U.S.-Mexico border port of entry to dedicate a FAST lane, said the CBP.