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WASHINGTON – The federal government is dramatically cutting back on funds to install nuclear and radiation detection equipment in overseas megaports to scan the contents of shipping containers destined for the United States, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, has completed only 42 of 100 planned megaport projects in 31 countries, spending some $850 million. However, NNSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is about to sustain an 85-percent reduction in its fiscal year 2013 budget.

The cut has prompted officials to shift their focus from providing new megaports with radiation detection equipment to sustaining the existing facilities. As a consequence, NNSA has suspended ongoing negotiations and canceled planned deployments of equipment in five countries.

According to its mission statement, the NNSA is responsible for the management and security of the country’s nuclear weapons, nuclear non-proliferation and naval reactor programs. It also responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and overseas.

The agency also is responsible for ensuring the safe and secure transportation of nuclear weapons and components and special nuclear materials to their destination.

An analysis by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, found that effectiveness in NNSA’s initiative is limited, apparently with the existing major seaports.

That could have an impact on installing and overseeing future equipment to detect the smuggling of nuclear and radiological materials.

“Without a long-term plan for ensuring countries’ ability to continue megaports operations, NNSA cannot be assured that its $850 million investment will be sustained,” the GAO said in the report.

“Moreover, the initiative’s performance measures do not provide sufficient information for decision-making because they do not evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the initiative,” the report said.

In addition, a GAO investigation determined that NNSA’s megaports initiative and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Container Security Initiative program that similarly examines high-risk shipping containers for weapons of mass destruction before coming to the U.S. were not “sufficiently coordinating.”

The two programs are co-located at 29 foreign seaports. The deficiency in equipment became apparent when DHS told GAO investigators they were using personal radiation detectors intended for personal safety but inadequate for scanning containers to inspect them.

Yet, investigators discovered that NNSA’s megaports initiative had the necessary equipment that could have been used by DHS officials, showing a serious lack of coordination and cooperation.

The NNSA megaports initiative began in 2003 to detect and capture nuclear or other radiological materials being smuggled through foreign seaports.

The program is supposed to fund the installation of radiation detection equipment at select overseas seaports. It also trains foreign personnel in the use of the equipment to scan the shipping containers entering and leaving the foreign seaports before they head to the U.S.

Last July, GAO found similar deficiencies in DHS deployment of radiation detection equipment that can scan for nuclear or radiological materials in trucks and containerized cargo coming into the U.S. through seaports and border crossings.

At the time, GAO said that “challenges remain for the agency in developing a similar scanning capability for railcars entering this country from Canada and Mexico, as well as for international air cargo and international commercial aviation.”

Such deficiencies by two agencies with the job of preventing the smuggling of nuclear materials – or worse, nuclear weapons – will continue to leave the U.S. vulnerable.

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