A report today by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed there are substantial technological, logistical, and cost challenges to resolve before 100 percent of 11 million cargo containers destined for the United States each year from foreign ports can be X-rayed. Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins and Senator Norm Coleman commissioned the report as part of the SAFE Port Act.

“Until X-ray scanning technology is proven effective at detecting radiological material and not disruptive of trade, requiring the scanning of all U.S. bound cargo, regardless of its risk, at every foreign port is misguided and provides a false sense of security,” Senator Collins said. “Under the SAFE Port Act, all cargo designated as high-risk at foreign ports is already scanned for radiation and X-rayed. In addition, cargo entering the U.S. at all major seaports is scanned for radiation. These security measures currently in place are part of a layered, risk-based method to ensure cargo entering the U.S. is safe.”

Under the SAFE Port Act, DHS is required to develop and test integrated scanning systems for cargo containers that combine radiation-detection equipment and non-intrusive X-ray machines through pilot programs at three foreign ports and report on progress every six months. DHS selected small-volume ports in Honduras, Pakistan, and England, to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo through a program known as the Secure Freight Initiative. The law requires DHS to examine the feasibility of carrying out scanning at ports worldwide, including the cost, impact on trade, and the effectiveness of the equipment.

“To fully understand the impact of X-raying all cargo containers bound for the U.S. in foreign ports, future DHS reports must consider whether the integrated scanning equipment can effectively identify dangerous radiological materials and do so in an efficient manner. DHS also must consider whether the initiative will deter foreign countries and private entities from participating in programs already proven to strengthen port security,” said Sen. Collins. “Participation in programs such as the Container Security Initiative, which targets high-risk containers, and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which encourages the private sector to secure their supply chains, could be negatively affected if the U.S. required all containers to be scanned. DHS is correct in asserting that future deployments of integrated scanning must be consistent with a risk-management framework that focuses on high-risk trade corridors.

“Although the pilot projects did not disrupt operations at smaller ports, the European Union estimated scanning adds $500 per container to the cost of shipping at low volume ports. In addition, there are significant challenges that larger ports would face that are not impediments at smaller ports. Consequently, DHS must evaluate whether integrated scanning equipment can be adapted to large-volume transshipment ports — that transfer containers directly from one ship to another. Many more questions must be answered before proceeding forward.”