DHS awards contracts for cargo radiation detection

The Homeland Security Department awarded indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts to three companies for development of systems that will help in detecting nuclear materials that can be used in weapons and that are concealed in cargo arriving at U.S. ports.

The Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography Systems (CAARS) contracts, with a potential total of $1.3 billion, were awarded to Science Applications International Corp., American Science and Engineering and L-3 Communications following a solicitation published in February.

Each contract is for seven years. The first two years are intended for the development of prototype systems, and the following five years for the production systems. After that, each company will be eligible to compete to manufacture the production systems and to provide any other development and follow-on support needed.

The new CAARS should appease critics of cargo inspection programs who say a higher rate of inspection would hamper the flow of cargo through ports and economically damage international trade.

The systems, which will detect the high-density shielding needed to hide the nuclear material rather than the materials themselves, should eventually help eliminate the need for human operators to interpret the radiological images.

Currently, cargo inspection takes about five minutes. The automated CAARS technology could reduce that to 30 seconds.

Working in tandem with passive radiation portal monitors, the CAARS active X-ray imaging techniques “should provide the U.S. with the capability to detect both unshielded, lightly shielded and shielded materials across the threat spectrum without slowing down commerce,” said Vayl Oxford, director of DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

CAARS will also be capable of detecting traditional contraband such as high explosives and drugs.

DHS said the current projected budget for the CAARS program should support the production and deployment of about 300 CAARS domestically and internationally for six years.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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