The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) yesterday announced that the installation of equipment to detect radiation at Kaohsiung Harbor had been completed, bringing Taiwan online as part of global efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Under the auspices of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), the Second Line of Defense Megaports Initiative provides radiation detection equipment and training at major ports worldwide to strengthen the capability of the international community to detect and interdict trafficking in nuclear material through maritime shipping.
Better known by its shorter name, the Megaports Initiative equips ports with radiation portal monitors for the detection of radiation, handheld devices to identify radioactive isotope, optical character recognition technology to identify containers, communications equipment to send data to a central alarm station, as well as training and technical support.
The Megaports Initiative, which brings in customs, law enforcement, port authorities, terminal operators and other government agencies, is now operational in 34 ports worldwide, with work under way at 18 other ports in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Megaports Initiative seeks to equip 100 seaports with radiation detection systems by 2016, scanning about 50 percent of global maritime containerized cargo and more than 80 percent of US-bound container traffic.
The AIT and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office signed a memorandum of understanding to implement the Megaports Initiative in Taiwan in 2006. Because of its strategic location, high volume and role as a key transshipment port in the Asian region, the inclusion of Kaohsiung Harbor in the initiative was seen as key to strengthening interdiction in the region.
Work to equip Kaohsiung Harbor began in 2007, with the installation of radiation detection equipment and training of Taiwanese officials. Because of the size of Kaohsiung Harbor, work was divided into two phases, with phase 1 involving the installation of detection equipment at terminals 2, 3 and 5, and phase 2 the completion of terminals 1 and 4, AIT said.
Kaohsiung Customs launched Megaports Initiative operations in November 2009 at all phase 1 sites, with all phase 2 sites coming online in October last year.
According to the NNSA, more than 90 percent of global commerce is transported through the maritime shipping network via cargo containers, with about 500 million twenty-foot-equivalent units — a measure of volume in the transport of containers — transiting the globe annually.
Because of its technological base and strategic location for direct shipment or transshipment, Taiwan has become the focus of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea and non-state organizations seeking to acquire material that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons.
In August 2003, the North Korean cargo vessel Be Gaehung was detained at Kaohsiung Harbor after US intelligence notified Taiwanese authorities that the vessel was suspected of carrying chemicals associated with rocket fuel.
Reports in December 2009 showed that Iran sought to obtain hundreds of pressure transducers, which can be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, from Heli-Ocean Technology Co, a Taiwanese agent, via a company based in Shanghai.