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Giant mobile scanner will combat smuggling of radioactive materials

Aug. 15, 2013 at 6:16 PM   |   Comments

ALBUQUERQUE, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. engineers say they've completed acceptance testing on an enormous mobile scanner intended to make smuggling radiological materials more difficult.

The Mobile Radiation Detection and Identification System, or MRDIS, will enable scanning of containers in transit from one cargo ship to another, scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque said Wednesday.

Typical radiation detectors are fixed at port entrances and exits, so they aren't able to scan containers being transferred from one ship to another within a port, Greg Stihel of Sandia's Systems & Mission Assurance Department said.

Such "transshipment" containers are an attractive target for those who might want to smuggle radioactive materials into a country for terrorist activities, such as making dirty bombs, he said.

"In 2006, National Nuclear Security Administration recognized the need to also scan cargo that is taken off a ship and, in a short period of time, put on a second ship," Stihel said.

Inspectors can move MRDIS to active docks so containers can pass through the MRDIS on the way to another vessel in the port, he said.

The latest mobile scanner is the eighth deployed by the Sandia lab. Four went to Panama and four, including the one just completing acceptance testing, to Oman in the Persian Gulf.

Nearly 90 percent of imported and exported goods travel the globe in shipping containers, Sandia officials said, with roughly 500 million containers traveling by sea each year.

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