US security chief urges Japan to safeguard ports
Tokyo, Mar 28: Installing radiation detectors at Japanese ports to thwart the chance of nuclear attacks should be made a priority as part of greater Asian shipping security, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said today.
Global port security came under renewed scrutiny earlier this month when a US political furore over possible national security threats forced a Dubai company to abandon plans to manage US ports.
Washington is particularly concerned about whether nuclear bombs or radioactive material could be smuggled into the United States in one of the 7 million to 9 million containers that enter the country's 361 ports each year, prompting a U.S. project to install radiation detectors at global ports.
Other countries have been slow to take part, however, with many fearing the screening could slow commerce at their ports.
Chertoff, in Tokyo on an Asian trip that will also take him to Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing, lauded Japan's participation in other US-led shipping security efforts but said it had yet to agree to the radiation screening.
''I want to really push, to make it an urgent item to take action on, partly because we have succeeded in concluding agreement with other major ports around the world and I don't think that shippers in Japan want to feel they're competitively disadvantaged,'' he told reporters.
Chertoff, who discussed the matter in a meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Aso yesterday, said no specific issues seemed to be blocking an agreement, but the question simply needed to be made more of a priority.
He added that since Japan was already carrying out a different US effort, the Container Security Initiative in which foreign ports give notice of cargo containers headed to the United States -- he did not believe much more effort was needed.
Radiation screening, which is supervised by the US Department of Energy as well as Homeland Security, began in 2003 but is currently operational outside the United States only in Greece, the Bahamas, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.
It is in various stages of implementation in 10 others, including China, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Chertoff said he was confident that the reassurance provided by increased security would eventually offset concerns about shipping delays.
''I think we all know that if a container were used to bring a dirty bomb or something similar into the United States, in addition to the obviously catastrophic consequences in America, it would be absolutely devastating to marine shipping,'' he said.
Chertoff said the failure of the Dubai ports deal was an isolated incident and that he hoped common sense would prevail.
''We can only really build our own security if we build it in partnership with other countries,'' he added.