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Date: June 24, 2009
Contacts: Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer
Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Detectors for Nuclear, Radiological Material in Cargo Should Not Be Acquired Until Testing Deficiencies Fixed, Cost-Benefit Analysis Completed
The 2006 SAFE Port Act requires that all containers coming into the United States through major entries be scanned for radiation, and "to the extent practicable, the Secretary shall deploy next generation radiation detection technology" to enable such scanning. In response, the department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) requested proposals for advanced spectroscopic portals (ASPs), the next generation of radiation detectors for cargo screening, to replace the current system of radiation portal monitors and handheld radioisotope identifiers, which have known deficiencies. Before DHS can proceed with full-scale procurement of ASPs, Congress required the secretary to certify that they will provide a "significant increase in operational effectiveness" over continued use of the existing screening devices. If ASPs are certified, DHS may spend more than $1 billion to purchase these detector systems, with a possible net lifecycle cost of more than twice that figure. Currently, DHS is testing and evaluating the ASPs to inform the secretary's decision.
Congress asked the Research Council to advise DHS about testing, analysis, costs, and benefits of ASPs before this certification decision is made. The ASP testing and evaluation program encountered some delays in 2008, which created the opportunity for this interim report to provide advice on how testing, evaluation, and the cost-benefit analysis should be completed.
Testing of ASPs before 2008 had serious flaws, a number of which DNDO has acknowledged and addressed, said the committee that wrote the new interim report. In 2008, DNDO carried out physical tests to evaluate some of the limits of the ASP systems, but inadequacies remain. These include a lack of modeling to complement the physical tests and small test sample sizes that limit the confidence of comparison testing between the old and new detector systems.
The committee recommended an iterative testing approach, using computer models to simulate performance of the detector systems and physical experiments to test the models and identify needs for refinements. Then the needed model refinements could be undertaken. This iterative modeling and testing approach will allow DHS to gain a better understanding of the detector systems' performance, the committee said.
Rather than focusing on a single procurement to replace current screening technology, testing of ASPs should be viewed as a first step in improving and adapting the detector systems, the committee recommended. DHS should develop a process for continuous improvement that could address and exploit changes in technology and the nature of commerce so the system is not outdated or obsolete by the time it is fully deployed. DHS should begin this process by deploying the unused ASPs they already own in real ports of entry.
To determine whether the costs for these systems are reasonable and justified, a careful assessment will be needed to reveal the advantages of ASPs among alternatives, the committee said. The cost-benefit analysis should include a clear statement of the objectives of the program; an assessment of meaningful alternatives; and a comprehensive, credible, and transparent analysis of in-scope benefits and costs. The benefit assessment should show how the procurement contributes, relative to other possible DHS efforts and expenditures, to improving security with respect to prevention of the detonation of a nuclear or radiological device, which is the primary objective of the ASP program. A cost-benefit analysis that is silent on this subject would be incomplete, the committee noted.
The study was sponsored by U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering,
Copies of Evaluating Testing, Costs, and Benefits of Advanced Spectroscopic Portals for Screening Cargo at Ports of Entry: Interim Report are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board
Committee on Advanced Spectroscopic Portals
Robert C. Dynes 1 (chair)
Department of Physics
Professor of Physics
Richard E. Blahut 2
Henry Magnuski Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Robert R. Borchers
Chief Technology Officer
Philip E. Coyle III
Private Consultant and Senior Adviser
World Security Institute
Roger L. Hagengruber
Director, Office for Policy, Security, and Technology; and
Director, Institute for Public Policy
Carl N. Henry
John M. Holmes
Deputy Executive Director of Operations
Department of Statistics
C. Michael Lederer
Research Chemist and Deputy Director Emeritus
University of California Energy Institute
Keith W. Marlow
Orion International Technologies Inc.
John W. Poston Sr.
Department of Nuclear Engineering
Henry H. Willis
Professor of Policy Analysis
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF