Port radiation detectors catch GAO heat

Published 17 April 2007

Recent tests of three next generation advanced spectroscopic portals find that none comes close to meeting 95 percent sensitivity; one proposed model detects enriched uranium only 17 percent of the time

Efforts are hardly underway in New York to test the next generation port radiation detection devices, and already the boo-birds are out criticizing their effectiveness. According to DHS’s Vayl Oxford, the agency has been evaluating technology from three different companies — Canberra Industries, part of the French group Areva; Integrated Defense Systems, a business of Raytheon Company; and Thermo Fisher Scientific — and the tests have been so succesful that he is “optimistic that when we go to the secretary this summer he will give us permission to go to production.” He did, however, hint that not everything was copacetic. According to Reuters, “Oxford said there has been a noticeable difference in the performance of the three models but declined to elaborate, saying he could recommend going into full production with one, two or all three versions.” The government plans to spend $1.2 billion to deploy 1,400 of the monitors by 2013.

The suggestion that not all tested models of advanced spectroscopic portals (ASPs) met the highest standards comes as the Government Accountability Office has issued a report (.pdf) noting that “DHS’s cost-benefit analysis does not provide a sound analytical basis for its decision to purchase and deploy the new portal monitor technology.” Referring to a 2005 NIST study, GAO noted that the three proposed solutions suffered from uneven sensitivity, with the best-performing device correctly identifying highly enriched uranium and depleted uranium only 53 percent of the time, with the two others succeeding 45 and 17 percent of the time, respectively — far short of the federal government’s goal of 95 percent. (The products were not identified by name.) “Officials asserted that the current performance levels of the ASPs will improve, but they provided no additional information as to how the 95 percent performance goal will be achieved or an estimate of when the technology will attain this level.”