Feds to Switch From Polyvinyl Toluene Detectors to Advanced Spectroscopic Portals?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Welcome the wacky world of nuclear bomb detection, as practiced by U.S. border guards protecting The Land of the Free from terrorist infiltration via our neighbors to the north. The Vancouver Sun reports the reassuring news that “every car, truck and passenger entering the United States by land from Canada is now searched for nuclear weapons.”

And how do they do that? Not so well, it seems. The feds have installed polyvinyl toluene or PVT monitors alongside the car lane approaches to customs’ booth inspections, with larger monitors for transport trucks in cargo inspection areas. “Each detects certain types of energy within a limited area but not the exact radioactive source. For that a suspect vehicle is sent for a secondary inspection that includes a scan with a hand-held detection device to identify the source and whether it constitutes a threat. Benign emissions from lingering medical isotopes in people’s bodies, scrap metal, natural sources of radiation and even Kitty Litter trigger frequent false alarms . . .

What’s more, PVT monitors can only detect unshielded or lightly shielded sources, which seems unrealistic, considering the sophisticated smuggling tactics determined nuclear terrorists would likely employ.” The solution? More technology of course.

The U.S. is instead debating the cost-effectiveness of replacing PVT technology with “advanced spectroscopic portals” or ASP, a new type of portal monitor designed to both detect radiation and identify the source.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office reports that ASP monitors use more sophisticated software, and have a more extensive library of radiation signatures that may provide more consistent and rapid screening and may increase the likelihood of correct identification. But they’re also almost three times more expensive than PVT monitors.

Still, one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Dean Dean on Nov 10, 2009

    Well, of course everyone knows that the 9/11 hijackers entered the US from Canada. Oh, wait a minute. They didn't. Jeff's point about the "millenium bomber" is correct. Funnily enough, I went on a week long motorcycle trip in WA, OR and CA this past summer and I entered the US in Port Angeles, the very entry point where Ressan was caught. The three bikers ahead of me and I were all pulled aside after going through the detectors. All of us (none of whom were traveling together) had apparently caused the detectors to go off. They came to each of us with handheld geiger counters (or so it appeared) and ran it over the bike, luggage and our bodies. They seemed visibly flustered to have so many apparent alarms in a row. It took about 15 minutes to finally get cleared (to the chagrin of my gf who did not get stopped and was stuck waiting). The irony is that they were so worked up about the false alarm they didn't ask me any questions! I could have been smuggling all kinds of stuff and they wouldn't have noticed, as long as it didn't set off their handheld sniffers.

  • Beken Beken on Nov 10, 2009

    My aunt and a carload of friends were delayed at the border and sat in a room for about an hour before one of the interrogators finally asked "which one of you had chemotherapy not too long ago. " My aunt had undergone chemotherapy about 2 months before. So those detectors are really sensitive.

  • MaintenanceCosts If you trust that Tesla vehicles are capable of "Full Self-Driving," then maybe you should also trust that this is surface contamination and that the underlying metal is unaffected.(Although it's also worth mentioning that surface contamination comes off traditionally painted cars with a sponge and a little soap.)
  • Ajla They are expecting flat sales?!
  • Honda1 Losing 45k per vehicle! This company won't be around to release the R2. Put a fork in it!
  • Zipper69 Alternatively, get cousin Goober in the back seat going "VROOM, VROOM"
  • John The answer is to wipe it off? I don't recall ever having to "wife off rust" in any car I've ever owned. Well... once a year claybar for rail dust maybe.