In a country lacking effective deterrents to stop illicit shipment of radioactive substances, proposals for helping it install a bulwark deserve serious appraisal. Even in the early 21st century, Bangladesh remains a free-for-all in terms of being a destination and transit route of all conceivable items. Illicit substances like drugs comprise a large segment of them. The US initiative to extend its logistics support in checking outbound and inbound shipments of radioactive materials through the Chattogram Port could not have been timelier. According to an FE report, a US team is due in the country in November to discuss the issue with the local officials. Already the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Government has installed 12 Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) at Chittagong Port. In operation under the Megaports Initiative, the devices are meant to deter, detect, and stem illegal transportation of radioactive substances. For a country, like Bangladesh, vulnerable to being a virtual haven for different international syndicates, foolproof measures to detect and seize radioactive or nuclear materials at the port are a national imperative.
The collaboration with the US, a pioneer in nuclear issues, will surely rev up the country's ability to efficiently deal with the dreaded threat. The government of Bangladesh and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the matter in 2008. The US has already provided the required technology to the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission to help detect the presence of radioactive substances in outbound cargos. The main segment of the technology comprises special monitors. Chittagong Customs House is reportedly operating the equipment. Of the 12 monitors, six have been installed at one gate of the port meant chiefly for outbound containers, with 4 (four) gates equipped with the rest. A troubling aspect of the surveillance network is seven other CPA gates' operating without these devices.
The issue, indisputably, is critical. Like many other countries threatened with newer types of ominous developments, Bangladesh may also be safe no longer. Europe has lately raised its threat and alert levels to preempt strikes of improvised N-devices. Europol has taken upon itself the task of monitoring the crime areas. Apart from direct strike, the threats comprise using the radioactive materials in violence and blackmailing carried out by organised crime groups. Much to the relief of the nation, Bangladesh is apparently far from being hit by nuclear violence -- at least for now. But its suspected use as a transit by global traffickers, and the largely unscreened entry of foreign discarded ships for the ship-breaking industry loom as a potential threat.
Bangladesh has few scopes for adopting a laidback attitude towards the newly-emerging scourge. It has potent reasons. The seizure of radioactive substances in a container at Chittagong Port and their disposal in August last year, and that of another consignment of radium and beryllium in 2014, calls for a mechanism of stringent monitoring to be in full operation.
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