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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

NNSA and the Vietnamese Ministry of Finance Agreement

FPC Briefing
William Kilmartin
Director of Megaports Initiative
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
July 2, 2010

Date: 07/02/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: William Kilmartin, Director of Megaports Initiative, National Nuclear Security Administration, discusses an agreement that was signed in Vietnam between the NNSA and the Vietnamese Ministry of Finance during a roundtable event at the Washington Foreign Press Center on July 2, 2010. - State Dept Image


MR. KILMARTIN: Well, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to come this morning and talk about the Megaports Initiative. And this is a nonproliferation initiative, part of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. And our goal is to work with foreign partners to detect, deter, and interdict radiological and nuclear material throughout the maritime shipping community. Vietnam is a very important partner in this engagement. And this morning the U.S. Ambassador in Vietnam and the Minister of Finance for Customs signed the memorandum understanding to begin the partnership with both countries. And this will start with a rather detailed process over the next year to 15 months working at the first port in Cai Mep which is in Vung Tau Province and then hopefully onto additional ports in Vietnam working with customs and various stakeholders in Vietnam.

So my program’s responsibility is to install radiation detection equipment, both fixed monitors and mobile detection units. These monitors are placed at four points of entry and egress from the ports. Both, we’re scanning as a nonproliferation program and we want to detect nuclear material and matter, where it is destined, for the health and safety of the citizens of Vietnam. We think it’s important to scan imports into the country. So we’ll set up a scanning regime for the imports and for the exports. All containers will be scanned as much as possible as we can do. We are a capacity-building program. So our goal is to train the Vietnamese customs to operate and maintain the equipment long-term. The agreement specifies that after the equipment is installed, we will turn the equipment over to customs and provide for a maintenance period of three years and technical support thereafter. And this begins a long-term partnership for radiological and nuclear detection.

We have a very extensive training program. Some of the brochures I handed out will go into detail of some of the training that we do both in the U.S., and in country, in Vietnam that we’ll accomplish. Primarily, our focus will be on scanning and detecting radiological and nuclear material in containers as it enters and exits the ports. If you would like to engage in some questions, I will be glad to take them. There is a press announcement here that was released this morning. The brochure I handed out also is tri-fold – I handed out on the Megaports Initiative. It dates to October, 2009. We’re in the process of updating it, but just for information purposes. We have signed agreements with 35 partners.

So – when we look at Vietnam – we also have just recently signed in Cambodia to install equipment and make a port in Cambodia. And we have a very active partnership in that region of the world from Laem Chabang, Thailand, also the Philippines and Japan. So we’re pretty extensive in Southeast Asia. We’re working closely with a number of governments to partner and expand radiological detection. This program is extremely important, because if nuclear or radiological material is detected, it could do adverse harm to not only the United States, but our partner countries, and impact the global shipping network. And we want to take every step to protect not only the citizens of the United States, but the citizens of the world and the countries we work in to make sure that everyone’s safety and security is maintained and that this is a big focus of the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: About the discussions, what is the agreement between the two countries based on?

MR. KILMARTIN: Well, the agreement was signed this morning. It talks about building the partnership. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement. It’s a commitment on both sides to – for the U.S. to work with customs in Vietnam and to put this equipment in place, to provide training, and maintaining the equipment for a period of three years. So as a capacity-building program, we are working very hard to ensure that our partners are well-trained and understand the capabilities of the equipment. One of the major factors that we undertake in all our ports is to ensure that the operational flow of containers is not impacted. We go through great lengths to put a design in place. And usually the best locations for the radiological portals is at the entrance or exits to the port.

So we’ll place them at the gates where a natural flow of traffic goes when a container enters a port and it will stop so it will get a radiation scan. And if there is an alarm, because there is naturally occurring radiation, an example, kitty litter or tile, so we will train customs to look at the radiation profile of the container that enters to review the manifest information, look at the shipper’s information, and then, if necessary, do a secondary inspection on the container basically with handheld equipment. On the tri-fold, it talks about equipment that we provide in handheld pieces of equipment and we’ll train the officers to use that equipment.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up, as to how long, after how many years will the equipment return to the US?

MR. KILMARTIN: Well, once the equipment is installed and accepted, and that should be within the next year to 15 months, the equipment will actually be turned over then to Vietnam customs. So the – in the presence of U.S. personnel will only be for training and periodically perhaps quarterly to engage with customs to ensure that the equipment is being used, questions on training, maintenance is provided. So that maintenance period will be a three-year commitment that the U.S. will pay for the maintenance of the equipment that allows for time for governments to put the budgetary allocations into maintaining the equipment at the port. Usually, it’s providing for a local maintenance company at the port that will look to see that the cameras are aligned properly, batteries are not out of date, the monitors are acting within their specified specifications.

And if there is a problem with any of the equipment, the local maintenance provider will take an action. And then once that action is taken, they will notify the Department of Energy. Second Line of Defense has set up a help desk that basically just allows for – and you have one of these brochures – allows for a reply within 24 hours so that we can assess the status of the system and allow for experts to be available to determine if there is any additional resources needed to fix a problem. It could be a software related issue with the system. It could be a component is broken and the local maintenance provider needs to take action. It could be that a truck ran into one of the monitors. So and then we would provide assistance to correct that problem.

QUESTION: Why did the US decide on Cai Mep, the port in Vietnam to install the equipment?

MR. KILMARTIN: Cai Mep is a large deepwater port. I understand it’s fairly new. And as a deepwater port, there’s a lot of containers that leave that port and bound for the United States, also. The decision to start at Cai Mep was a joint decision by Customs in the U.S., and the Department of Energy. So previously on a visit to the port, one of my inspection teams discussed the location. We discussed a number of ports in Vietnam, and Cai Mep was determined to be the best location to start at.

QUESTION: Is there any harm to the goods which go through the detectors?

MR. KILMARTIN: That’s a very good question and the answer is no. These are passive radiation detectors, so they are collecting information. So a truck will drive through a portal monitor. The portal monitor is – operates. It’s on. It collects background information, some natural background radiation. And when a truck drives through, it creates an occupancy and if the truck container is – has a higher radiation level than the occupancy, than the background, then it will alarm. This is basically just a gross detection detector. So there is no harm to public health.

And it is not – you might be familiar with the x-ray systems where those – or high energy systems that look inside a container, commonly called – they’re nonintrusive imaging systems. Those are active interrogation systems where they actually produce an image and you see the image. That is a different technology than the radiation portal monitors. We are a passive system that just collects energy from the container to ensure that the radiation level -- that there’s nothing inside the container that could do harm to the citizens of Vietnam or impact the shipping community.

QUESTION: As you know, two months ago, President Obama invited our Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, for the nuclear summit and now the U.S. installs nuclear detection equipment for Cai Mep port. How do you think about the nuclear cooperation between Vietnam and the US in the future?

MR. KILMARTIN: Well, I think this is a very good and important step for the future relations in nuclear cooperation and certainly this enables us to partner together to train Vietnam’s experts in radiation and radiological detection. As a capacity-building program, that is our goal. Our goal is to train our partner countries in the world so that everyone has the same level of knowledge and institutional knowledge that they will be able to have the experts to deal with – in the event that a radiological weapon or a device is found.

What we’re seeing based on historical information from the 30 operational ports we’re at is there are – we noticed there are a lot of shipments of material that – it might be waste disposal or sources that are medical sources, isotopes that are disposed of in shipping containers rather than returning them to the vendor. We see contaminated products, steel – these are common things that we see in the shipping lines now. And to have that information, to know what’s coming in and out of your port is extremely valuable information.

QUESTION: And now looking on your (inaudible), Vietnam has plans to build a nuclear facility (inaudible). Do you have concerns about this and if yes, how do you support Vietnam to do the nuclear facility (inaudible)?

MR. KILMARTIN: Well, that is outside of my purview and scope of responsibility and I’m really not the expert to answer those questions. We can certainly get that information for you and look to that, but I think that’s outside of my area of responsibility.

QUESTION: I had a – I have a question. If they are detecting nuclear materials smuggling into Vietnam, how can you – how can we deal with –

MR. KILMARTIN: How can you deal with it?


MR. KILMARTIN: Is that the question? Well, if a container detects – if a container entering the port or exiting the port is – there’s a radiological source – nuclear material in that container, then customs would take action to detain that container. If it’s a container that has contaminated scrap or some kind of product in it, then it might be returned to the sender, to the original owner of the goods in the container. Certainly, disposing of the contents is a question. But our focus is geared towards the – looking for radiological and nuclear sources that are being smuggled throughout the world. And that is our number one focus we’re looking for.

QUESTION: Who will actually monitor the equipment, the scanners?

MR. KILMARTIN: Vietnam customs will actually – this is all equipment – the equipment installed at the port will be – there will be a central alarm station. So basically think of it as a one location where all the monitored information comes into a single room so customs will have individuals available to look at the container information, look at the manifest, look at the profile of the container and then make a determination of what to do with the box, whether the container can be released into the country, if it’s an import or if it’s an export, would it be loaded onto a vessel. But all of that is the responsibility of Vietnamese customs and the agreement that was signed stipulates that in the event that something is found, then we would expect that the Vietnamese customs would notify the U.S. Government that something was detected in the container. But the sole responsibility for analyzing and the action taken on the container will be the responsibility of the Vietnam customs.

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