back to article DHS scraps nukes-in-cargo-containers scan plan

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 …


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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    The hit-pitched sound of pork riding into the sunset

    "less sensitive polyvinyl toluene portal monitors"

    What's that then?

    Never mind, I found it:

  2. Anonymous Coward

    For f*ck's sake

    Have these guys been watching too many TV shows or what?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I worked for a container shipping company for 16 years...

    Let me tell you, conditions at a port are NOT happy places for highly technical, delicate equipment. It's hard enough to get RFID readers at gate portals to reliably function.

    Given that anybody with enough resources to build one of these things could probably figure out how to suppress the radiation the detectors are looking, for this was doomed from the beginning.

    Time to move to Idaho.

    1. Tom 13

      I DON'T work at a dock,

      and had pretty much the same thought when they originally announced this boondoggle.

  4. Ryan 7

    So that's why

    my shipment of smoke detectors got delayed...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Although A Hand Carried...

    ...device, eg. suitcase would not allow much shielding, a nuke in cargo container could be well concealed given the weight and size capacity of a cargo container.

    And, as an episode of NCIS-LA pointed out, the radiation signature of bananas or ice melting salt would mask plutonium emissions.

    I believe intelligence gathering is our best hope here.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    A bit late at the Port of Entry, isn't it?

    Unless the container port is 100 miles out of town, what's the point exactly?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      they haven't spent all of their budget yet.

      Besides, closing the following ports would make life here in the U.S. suck:

      Los Angeles


      New Orleans


      New York.

      In fact, just closing one of them would do.

      Scary, a global economy, isn't it.

  7. Dave 32


    Rumor has it that the detectors worked exceedingly well, well enough, in fact, that they would detect a cargo of bananas in shipping containers (Bananas are naturally radioactive, due to a high concentration of naturally radioactive Potassium 40; look up Banana Equivalent Dose.). But, that's where the problems began. It seems that, when such a shipment of bananas was identified, the trained monkeys operating the scanners would immediately forget all about scanning other cargo containers and start eating the bananas. ;-)


    P.S. Oh, don't even mention those shipments of Brazil Nuts!

  8. Alan Firminger

    It will happen one day

    I researched this on the web about eight years ago. There were a large number of academic papers addressing the problem. They all concluded (1) that radiation detection was the solution and (2) it wouldn't work. I presume this was a DARPA contract to every uni physics department.

    But because there is no solution the problem won't go away. One day a nuke will come in through customs. Stratford one year hence is an obvious target. But although it is certain to happen it is impossible to say where or when.

    Let me tell you about my time as a conscript in her Majesty's armed forces. The best bit was when we went to the range and I fired 30 rounds through a BREN , that is an LMG . There was a tremendous thrill as lead went downrange, so easily. From this experience I think I can understand atrocities with automatic weapons. If you posses a weapon like that it talks quietly to you, saying "Use me." Nukes are a challenge to any self respecting jihadist organiser, "Get me, use me."

    To get a nuke requires application and a lot of cash. With OBL out of action we may have a break. All AQ attacks are unexpected and devastating for obvious reason.

    So when it happens how will the greedy, arrogant and racist western nations respond ?

    1. IanPotter

      RE It will happen one day

      "So when it happens how will the greedy, arrogant and racist western nations respond ?"

      Gee, I'll take "bomb the shit out of the usual suspects" for 10 points Bob!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sure I read somewhere they have a nuclear thing in?

  10. Pirate Dave

    Yeah right

    the detectors don't work. So all you terrorists, don't worry about it, just keep on trying to ship dirty bombs in. We won't be able to detect it at all. This is not a smokescreen. No, really, the detectors don't work. Honest...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Dirty bombs ain't nukes, dude

      The former are hard to use effectively, the latter very hard to source.

  11. Nights_are_Long

    Thing is nukes don't have to get past the scanners.

    Thing is nukes don't have to get past the scanners, say the Terrorists wanted to blow up a port city we would still be in trouble if the weapon was detonated as it was coming into a port. All it takes is for some one to be dockside with a trigger device from that group and the name of a ship waits till the ship has docked and then detonates.

    But having said that, nukes are kinda hard to obtain or we would have seen it done by now, I know there must be some nation states like Iran, North Korea etc who would like to give one to group X but they also know if they did the next nuclear detonation would be over there Capital City, and if one came up for sale on the black market the news would get back to some very serious agencies who I doubt would ask for it nicely.

    So I am not all that worried, besides if it did happen and I was in the target city I probably wouldn’t have the time to say "Bugger" before I was turned into a over cooked human donna stick by the heat wave.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Half-baked idea?

    So, how did Big Sis ever figure that these detectors would really work, given that screening is just a matter of surrounding the weapon with some low-cost materials . This has been known publicly for a while, maybe 20 years, so DHS seems to have been guilty of a cosmetic effort here, rather than attempting serious interdiction.

    Another way of looking at this is to see how much illegal drugs cross our borders. Compared with a load of coke, a nuke is something of a peewee. DHS usually misses the coke, so what chance do they have for catching a nuke? Especially if the nukers get some help from the cartels.

    The only sane way to stop nukes is to control the material. Contrary to all the hype, it's really tough and billion-dollar expensive to create very enriched uranium (weapons-grade). So the risk we face is that a nuclear nation will decide to try to bring a weapon into the US, rather than terrorists. There are only two candidates today, Iran and N Korea. I'd like to know who is providing their centrifuges. I suspect it's a major German company, and they deserve to be shut down for doing it.

    1. Tom 13

      Sadly, I'd say about 80% of what Big Sis is doing

      is cosmetic effect (airport grope searches being merely the most visible cosmetic), and I'd rather they were spending more of my money on things that actually worked.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    taking nukes to the US a bit like taking coals to Newcaslte, or airbags to Bulgaria?

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Why the ports?

    Do they scan every container lorry entering the US from Canada?

    1. Alan Firminger

      Never mind the 48th parallel

      Felixstowe does not scan every container coming from Pakistan.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Wow, they finally cancelled an expensive, pointless and impossible project?

    Pointless for many reasons - not least that if a terrorist organisation actually did manage to get hold of a viable nuclear weapon, it wouldn't matter whether they set it off in a major port city or a major city.

    Sail it into a busy harbour somewhere and make it go boom. If you've got the cash to arrange for a nuclear weapon, then a seagoing motor vessel is small change.

    Impossible - well, the experts already knew it and said so. The reasons are pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain - significant shielding is easy to put inside a shipping container. More if you disguise it as a shipment of large metal objects!

    And finally, again pointless, because the only way to protect against this kind of attack is via intelligence!

    There's not very much weapons-grade nuclear material in the world, there aren't many people who know how to make one, and there aren't very many pre-assembled nuclear weapons.

    I'm pretty sure that the various intelligence agencies do already know where all the above are and I'm certain that they keep very close tabs on them. As somebody mentioned before, the only sources would be Iran, North Korea, and maybe parts of the former USSR.

    Even if they didn't, a terrorist would need a *lot* of hard cash and a very extensive organisation to carry that out - thus impossible to keep secret for long enough.

  16. Charles 9 Silver badge

    Call me crazy...

    But wouldn't a properly-in-the-know nuke maker simply contain the bomb in lead or other material which blocks the radiation? Or is the tech supposed to be able to detect radiation-blocking materials as well?

  17. Rob

    Bizarre intelligince to say the least...

    ... I would have thought that profiling a terrorist organisation that can obtain a fully working nuke in the first place they would also consider that the terrorist organisation that can achieve that would also have the ability to pull off a different form of delivery. I would suggest a small automated submarine (drug cartels can do it) shadowing a container ship coming into port, or better still a bit of wielding and install it in the ship itself and say maybe pack some extra standard explosives in a few cargo containers wait till it's in range (doesn't even need to get to the point of docking with that much explosives in, as you're going for Area of Effect).

  18. PT

    Well this is a first!

    What, a "terror" project dumped because it doesn't work and it's over budget? Since when has that ever been a factor? What happened - did the bean-counters at Raytheon cut back on the political donations, or was the project concentrated in too few congressional districts? Perhaps they don't have the right former Director of Homeland Security on the board. I think we should be told.

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