- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, using radiation detection devices, discovered the presence of radioactive cobalt-60 during a routine boarding inspection last week of a container ship at the Port of Los Angeles.

CBP spokeswoman Christiana Halsey said laboratory personnel from the agency, along with officials from the Energy Department, examined the material and found that a gauge used to test the ship’s fire-extinguishing system was the source of the radioactive emission. The tests determined that the source posed no threat.

Cobalt-60 is the most common radioactive form of the element, produced commercially as a result of weapons testing or in other nuclear reactions and used as a tracer and radiotherapeutic agent. It is widely used as a medical and industrial radiation source.

Most of the radiation from the decay of cobalt-60 is in the form of gamma and beta emissions, which can adversely affect a person’s health. Exposure to low levels of gamma radiation over an extended period of time can cause cancer.

CBP officers discovered the material during a nighttime border inspection of the Toledo, a Maersk container ship that had arrived at the Port of Los Angeles from Kwang Yang, South Korea, Mrs. Halsey said. During the boarding, she said, the CBP officers were alerted to the presence of radioactivity by their personal radiation detectors, which CBP officers wear on belts and which sound a warning when radiation is present.

Mrs. Halsey said officers found the strongest intensity of radioactivity near the ceiling of the engine storage room. A scan of the area with a radiation isotope identifier device, similar to a Geiger counter, appeared consistent with the presence of cobalt-60.

She said CBP officers secured the area, and information was relayed to the CBP Laboratory and Scientific Services at the National Targeting Center. The Energy Department’s Radiation Assistance Program (RAP) team, dispatched later from Las Vegas, determined the next day that the level of radiation emission posed no threat.

CBP is the unified border agency within the Homeland Security Department charged with the management, control and protection of the nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. It is responsible for keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

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