July 14, 2006

US awards $1.16 bln for border scanning gear

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland
Security said on Friday it awarded $1.16 billion in contracts
to three companies to develop equipment to scan cargo at border
cities for nuclear weapons material.

Raytheon Co., Thermo Electron Corp. and Canberra Industries
were awarded the contracts for a program known as the advanced
spectroscopic portal.

Officials did not give the specific breakdown of the
contract award but said it was divided roughly equally among
the three companies.

Raytheon said its initial contract was for $18.2 million,
but the domestic market for the equipment could be worth more
than $1 billion. The United States has more than 600 ports of

The equipment will be used by U.S. Customs and Border
Protection officials to more clearly distinguish between
naturally occurring radioactive materials and highly enriched
uranium or weapons grade plutonium.

"The single biggest threat we worry about in terms of
protecting this country and securing the homeland is the threat
of a weapon of mass destruction, and at the very top of the
scale is a nuclear device or a radiological device," Homeland
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters.

The new program will create a "next generation" of
radiation technology to help avoid false positives and more
quickly intercept a possible radiological or nuclear bomb.

The contract covers a base year of mainly research and
development followed by four one-year options by the

The companies will supply a total of 1,400 radiation
detection machines, which will be installed at ports of entry
and will be used to screen cargo containers and truck traffic.
Deployment will begin later this year and about 80 of the
machines should be installed in 2006, Chertoff said.

(Additional reporting by Jim Wolf)