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European Port to Get Nuclear Detectors

August 14, 2003

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Fearing terrorism from the sea, the United States signed an agreement Wednesday to pay for radioactivity detectors at Europe’s largest seaport in an effort to block the smuggling of nuclear material.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the $3 million system will scan some of the 6 million containers passing through Rotterdam each year and will ``improve our mutual efforts to prevent the illicit traffic of nuclear materials.″

The project is the latest in a series of U.S. security measures implemented in Rotterdam and other world ports after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

``No weapon is beyond the planning of terrorist groups, particularly the al-Qaida network,″ said Abraham, who toured a busy container dock after signing the accord with Dutch Finance Secretary Joop Wijn.

The agreement clears the way for deploying both fixed and hand-held devices to scan cargo containers going through the port, including four gamma and neutron monitors.

The U.S. Energy Department will provide the equipment, which is expected to arrive within a few months, and conduct training, American officials said.

The system later will be expanded with Dutch-funded equipment at an eventual cost of $15 million-$20 million.

A similar gamma monitor was installed by Curef, a private Dutch scrap metal company at the port, spokesman Robert van Waterschoot said.

The monitor once detected traces of radioactivity among tons of aluminum from a disused Russian airplane destined for recycling, he said. It turned out that a tiny strip on the plane’s fuel gauge contained radon, a radioactive gas.

The Rotterdam port handles more than 300 million metric tons of cargo a year. Thousands of commercial ships pass through the port, many of them hauling cargo from the Middle East and other regions of the world destined for the United States. About 350,000 containers a year leave here for U.S. ports.

Security officials long have worried about terrorists using container shipments to hide nuclear material that could be used to make a dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives to spread radiation.

The Bush administration has maintained it would be virtually impossible to keep such devices from getting into the United States, short of bringing international commerce to a halt, unless there are multiple levels of security, beginning in major foreign ports. It is better to intercept those devices before they get to U.S. borders, officials argue.

Last year, Rotterdam was among the first ports to permit the stationing of U.S. customs agents on its quays and to allow the inspectors to examine cargo manifests. Information is run through a U.S. database to identify containers posing a potential risk that should be scanned.

The United States now has 15 such agreements, prompting protests from other countries which fear the lack of similar arrangements will lead to a decline in traffic though their own seaports.

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