Feds to Switch From Polyvinyl Toluene Detectors to Advanced Spectroscopic Portals?
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.
More by Robert Farago
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