Expert Report

Evaluating Testing, Costs, and Benefits of Advanced Spectroscopic Portals for Screening Cargo at Ports of Entry: Interim Report (2009)

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to deploy new radiation detectors to improve screening of containerized cargo for nuclear and radiological material at U.S. ports and border crossings. Congress directed the department to ask the National Research Council to advise DHS on testing, analysis, costs, and benefits of the new detector systems, called advanced spectroscopic portals. This interim report assesses past testing and advises how DHS should modify its approach to this procurement decision. The report notes flaws in tests prior to 2008, finds that the 2008 tests were an improvement, but concludes that shortcomings remain. The report recommends an iterative approach of computer modeling and physical tests to make testing more rigorous. The report also recommends a phased deployment of the detector systems as extended operational testing. Finally, DHS needs a thorough cost-benefit analysis that includes an assessment of meaningful alternatives to reveal the potential security advantages of deploying the new detector systems.