Livermore Lab Readies Tools to Shore Up Port Defense





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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory tested nuclear detection technology used to protect U.S. seaports from terrorist attack, lab officials announced yesterday.

Using an actual ship cargo container, lab researchers tested 18 hand-held devices and one crane-mounted scanner over a three-week period in June.

Lab officials declined to comment on specific results for national security reasons, but researchers said many of the devices performed well.

"I am encouraged," said project leader William Dunlop. "There is equipment available to inspect our cargo."

In the wake of Sept. 11, U.S. politicians have repeatedly raised the possibility of a terrorist group smuggling radioactive material into the nation's seaports. Several bills aimed at boosting port security are pending in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Livermore lab has in recent months become increasingly involved with the war on terrorism. In July, the lab released plans for a new bioterrorism research facility.

But unlike that plan, lab critics met yesterday's announcement with cautious praise.

"It is an appropriate activity for Lawrence Livermore to engage in," said Marylia Kelley, executive director of lab watchdog group TRI-Valley CAREs. "What we're objecting to is what 90 percent of their money goes to, which is the further development of nuclear weaponry."

The devices tested were mostly developed for health-safety reasons, and all are available commercially.

Dunlop said it was "only natural" that better devices would be developed specifically for weapons detection.

In major U.S. ports, giant cranes remove cargo containers from ocean-going ships and place them on trucks and trains.

A crane-mounted device similar to the one tested by the lab could potentially be mounted on all cranes and perform radiation testing on all inbound containers, Dunlop said.

The Port of Oakland has been improving its security since last October, said Ray Boyle, general manager of maritime operations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., inspected the port's security Monday.

The port added video surveillance, perimeter fencing and automatic pedestrian controls. Customs inspectors at the port carry radiation detection devices, Boyle said.

He added that the lab tested the particular device Port of Oakland customs officials carry.

But smuggling nuclear material into the port is "conceivably still possible," Boyle said.

In a further effort to ensure seaport security, the U.S. Customs Service has launched the Container Security Initiative.

The initiative posts U.S. customs inspectors at foreign ports to inspect U.S.-bound containers. Several of the world's largest ports have already agreed to participate.

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