Small vessels using San Diego's waterways will soon be tested for radiological threats under a three-year pilot program announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The West Coast Maritime pilot program, which is already under way in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, was initiated by the DHS' Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
According to the DHS, about $10 million will be spent on the pilot program to purchase radiation detection equipment, including portable sensors and fixed-position detectors.
It is intended to counter the risk of radiological and nuclear threats that could be illegally transported into the country on recreation or small commercial vessels, according to the DHS.
"The West Coast Maritime pilot program addresses a potential threat pathway in the maritime domain," said Vayl S. Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. "This project reflects the priority that the department has placed on balancing risk against all potential threats."
Existing federal grant funding will be leveraged to provide local and state authorities with radiation detection equipment, according to the DHS.
The program will be coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, officials said.
According to the DHS, small vessels include any watercraft that is less than 300 tons, including commercial fishing and recreational boats, yachts, tow boats and uninspected passenger ships.
Large commercial ships and yachts are already subject to checks under the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act.
Local officials applauded the DHS' decision to select San Diego to take part in the radiation detection program.
"A secure port is an important part of keeping the entire San Diego area secure," county Supervisor Ron Roberts said. "With our proximity to the international border and large military presence, it makes sense to invest technology and resources here."
Mayor Jerry Sanders said it was "another example of the San Diego region being viewed as a leader in the nation in homeland security efforts and collaboration."
"Being selected by DHS to participate in this innovative program adds yet another great tool for the Port of San Diego to protect our ports from those who would seek to do Americans harm," Sanders said.
The DHS did not disclose exactly when the program would begin in San Diego, stating only that it would start "soon."
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