DHS unveils finalists in $1.35 billion nuclear screening contract

Published 15 September 2006

DHS has placed three of the usual suspects on the short-list of a $1.35 billion CAARS program to screen for nuclear materials at U.S. seaports and land crossings; the CAARS contracts comes on the heels of $1.16 billion worth of ASP contracts to detect and identify unshielded or lightly shielded nuclear materials

Screening freight containers and trucks for nuclear materuials is big business. DHS has just identified three companies to compete for radioactive screening at ports and border crossings — a contract worth about $1.35 billion. The department made the announcement as Senate Republicans continued to battle last-minute amendments Democrats were proposing to a pending port security law.

The DHS program is called the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography System, or CAARS, and it is designed to deliver “an advanced imaging system that will automatically detect high density shielding that could be used to hide special nuclear material such as highly enriched uranium or weapons grade plutonium.”

It is not surprising to see the usual suspects on the short list: San Diego, California-based SAIC; Billerica, Massachusetts-based American Science & Engineering (AS&E); and Woburn, Massachusetts-based L-3 Communications.

As part of a seven-year contract, each firm would receive an initial $50 million to develop a prototype in two years. The remaining $1.3 billion has been earmarked for the production of 300 systems, with all three firms being able to compete for the business subject to a DHS determination on the types and uses of the systems to be produced. Any one or all three firms could end up being offered slices of this business.

The new system is envisioned as a complement to advanced spectroscopic portals, or ASP, which detect and identify unshielded or lightly shielded nuclear materials. In July DHS awarded $1.16 billion worth of ASP contracts to three vendors — Raytheon, Thermo Electron, and Canberra — for one base year plus four annual options. The goal for the first year is to develop a fixed radiation detection portal which will become the “standard installation for screening cargo containers and truck traffic.”

Vayl Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), says that ASP and CAARS will together provide the United States with the ability to detect unshielded and shielded materials without slowing down commerce.

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