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Helping Trade while Keeping Sri Lanka Secure: the IAEA’s Tool for Radiation Alarm and Commodity Evaluation (TRACE)

21 December 2017
To catch smuggled nuclear material, and so reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, authorities around the world have – over the last decades – installed more than 10 000 radiation portal monitors (RPMs) at borders and seaports. These monitors detect radioactive material, enabling officers to interdict illicitly trafficked material. The monitors have to be sensitive to detect very small quantities of nuclear material, and this means that they also alarm on small quantities of innocent naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that is present in commodities such as ceramics, fertilizer and soybeans. On a daily basis, thousands of such innocent alarms need to be resolved quickly and confidently to facilitate trade without compromising security. To do this, customs officers can now use a new IAEA mobile application. Jada Perera, Director of Sri Lanka Customs, said:
“The port of Colombo is a major hub in east-west trade and  millions of containers move through it every year.  We need tools to help us make informed assessments of all cargo passing through our port,” he said. “If there is radioactivity of any kind, it will be detected.  The challenge we face is determining whether the alarm that is triggered by the detected radiation is innocent or not. Unless we have quick access to information on why a shipment might have naturally occurring radioactive material present, such alarms can hamper trade by delaying shipment and interrupting normal operations at our port.”The IAEA’s Tool for Radiation Alarm and Commodity Evaluation (TRACE), an app for smart phones, was developed as part of a coordinated research project that involved experts from the IAEA and more than 20 countries, using information on commodities and isotopes collected by radiation portal monitors. It is based on the radiation signatures of the different cargo commodities. Being able to distinguish between the commodities this way helps customs officers like Mr Perera.

“With TRACE, we get instant confirmation of the material, enabling customs officers to make quicker decisions with more confidence, ultimately contributing to increased trade facilitation, which is our goal,” he said.Mr Perera said TRACE helps determine whether a radiation alarm is consistent with what is declared to be in the container.  <p>

“We are concerned about illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material," he said. “For example, if the paperwork for a shipment says the cargo is ceramics, it means we should see tiny quantities of naturally occurring thorium when we scan the cargo with radiation detection equipment. If we see a Colbalt-60 spectrum, we know that a shipper is possibly declaring ceramic ware to smuggle a Cobalt-60 source. This cargo is then detained and taken to secondary inspection."<p>

Because each isotope has different radiological characteristics, attempts to hide smuggled radioactive material in a cargo containing naturally radioactive material is practically impossible, he added.Nirasha Rathnaweera from the Surveillance Unit at the Atomic Energy Board of Sri Lanka is responsible for providing expert radiological advice to Customs in the event of radiation alarms. She said TRACE helps her better support customs officers in determining whether an alarm was a cause for concern. She now has a resource that provides reliable radiological information, helping avoid unnecessary inspections and delays.
Indunil Liyanage, a Senior Customs Officer in Sri Lanka, oversees training of the customs officers who are responsible for evaluating radiation alarms.<p>

<p>   
The mobile app has shortened the time needed to train officers to assess radiation alarms from days to hours, he said.  “TRACE is an easy to use tool that provides trusted access to resources such as commodity codes, pictures and descriptions of material use and appropriate packaging.”
Experts from Sri Lanka, a trade hub through which thousands of containers transit each day, used their vast experience to contribute to the development of TRACE. They provided information on alarms, handheld equipment measurements, cargo types, recorded isotopes, probable weight of cargo and more.
Mr Perera said working in partnership with the IAEA in the development of the app has helped Sri Lanka and other large shipping ports: “TRACE helps strengthen nuclear security worldwide."
<p>WITH THANKS TO:</p>
<p>Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board</p>
<p>Sri Lanka Customs Department</p>
<p>Sri Lanka Port Authority</p>
<p>General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia</p>

<p>SPECIAL THANKS TO:</p>
<p>Charles Massey, Nuclear Security Officer, Division of Nuclear Security, IAEA Department of Safety and Security</p>

<p>Nadeera Hemamali Gunaratna Mudiyanselage, Junior Professional Officer, Division of Nuclear Security, IAEA Department of Safety and Security</p>

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