The benefits are incalculable …

From The Associated Press, Aug. 23, 2007, and something we discussed earlier this week:
“WASHINGTON – The specter of a nuclear bomb, hidden in a cargo container, detonating in an American port has prompted Congress to require 100 percent screening of U.S.-bound ships at their more than 600 foreign starting points.”

In a strongly worded statement in opposition to the action of Congress, the White House stated that the scanning requirement was “neither executable nor feasible”. As usual, the administration’s spokesman hasn’t done his homework, or is relying on mistaken intelligence reports again. A number of well-qualified organizations are in a position to take issue with the White House’s misleading statement because the instruments and devices already developed by these scientific laboratories give the lie to that “neither executable nor feasible” comment:

• Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have developed a detector that can see through lead or other heavy shielding in truck trailers or cargo containers to detect uranium, plutonium or other dense materials. Their technique, muon radiography, is far more sensitive than x-rays, with none of the radiation hazards of x-ray or gamma-ray detectors now in use.

• Scientists at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, have designed and demonstrated the world’s most accurate gamma-ray detector … right under the very nose of the administration! This detector has the capability of verifying the age and enrichment of the materials, and sometimes the intended purpose and origin.

• Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (funded by the administration!), have devised ways to improve the performance of radiation detectors. These new devices can be used at room temperature, making them more cost-effective than existing detectors that must be operated at very cold temperatures using expensive liquid nitrogen. These devices can detect more minute quantities of radiation and can detect them more quickly and from greater distances, can better identify the source of radiation, and can distinguish illicit sources from naturally occurring radioactive materials.

Rep. Markey, D-Mass., said that we cannot afford not to do it, and he’s right. We gain nothing, however, by just throwing money at the threat. Expecting foreign nationals in “600 foreign starting points” to do the job for us is foolhardy. We’d need thousands of U.S. servicemen to watch their every move. Why not use these servicemen, and the detecting devices described above, on U.S.-built container ships … our patented ones, of course … to scan/inspect all incoming cargo containers while the vessels are underway, and prior to arrival in U.S. ports?

The entire cost, including what it would cost to retrofit shipyards and build a few thousand container ships, will be far less than the cost of maintaining and monitoring those 600 overseas starting points. Along with the guaranteed security, consider the financial rewards. Thousands of shipyard jobs, billions of dollars in profits generated by U.S.-owned container ships … the benefits are incalculable.