WASHINGTON -- The United States is set to deploy radiation scanner technology at Azerbaijan's Baku Airport this year in an effort to catch possible weapon-usable nuclear contraband moving through the former Soviet republic.
The detection gear would supply Azeri authorities with new means to identify, seize and discourage illegal shipments of potential ingredients for an improvised nuclear weapon or radiological "dirty bomb," the National Nuclear Security Administration said in a press release.
The NNSA Second Line of Defense program plans to install a number of radiation portal monitors for scanning international travelers and cargo, agency spokesman Robert Middaugh told Global Security Newswire in an e-mail statement. The systems would alert a central alarm station to any indication of sensitive materials such as uranium and plutonium, he said.
Portable scanners to be supplied by the atomic office would "help to localize and identify sources of radiation," the spokesman stated, adding the deployment is slated for completion in either November or December.
South Korea financed the planned installation with $300,000 provided through the Group of Eight Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The U.S. State Department's Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative supported the transfer.
Neither the Azeri nor the South Korean embassies in Washington responded to requests for comment on Thursday.
The outlay from the South Korean Foreign Ministry marked Seoul's fifth grant to the multilateral nonproliferation initiative, according to the NNSA press release. South Korea in recent years has supplied $900,000 in funding for NNSA initiatives in Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
“The Republic of Korea’s continued and generous support of NNSA’s work to strengthen nuclear security worldwide shows the strength of our relationship and the global commitment to nuclear security,” Anne Harrington, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said in prepared comments. “Partnerships like this allow NNSA to make even more progress in the global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material and impede the efforts of terrorists and proliferators to acquire dangerous radioactive materials.”
The potential for terrorists or criminals to smuggle nuclear or radioactive materials out of one-time Soviet states is a longtime cause of concern in Washington, and a number of U.S. congressional appropriators have prioritized initiatives to counter such trafficking over other nonproliferation activities carried out by the semiautonomous Energy Department office.