Jan 13, Colombo: Sri Lanka Customs is planning to expand its radiological surveillance capabilities to the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), the island's main international airport at Katunayake.
Currently, the Customs operates a networked radiological alarms system and a specialized investigative team at the Colombo port.
Late last year seven consignments of cargo inbound to Sri Lanka were ordered to be shipped back to their place of origin due to unsafe levels of radiation, according to a report in Sunday Times.
The last consignment ordered to be returned was a container full of Pine wood panels which was identified to be contaminated with isotope Cesium 137, said Ajith Siriwardhana, Chief Assistant Preventive Officer, Sri Lanka Customs. The Pine wood panels are suspected to have originated from a forest reserve near Chernobyl near the Ukrainian border.
The Megaport Surveillance Unit of the Customs monitors a network of radiological alarms at all the gates leading in and out of each terminal at Colombo Port, at a centralized monitoring station which is manned 24 hours. The small specialized unit is trained and equipped with fixed and portable radiological spectrum analysis equipment which can detect both neutron and proton practical emission.
The Colombo port processes 3,000-3,500 container units daily, of which on average between 100-150 units are flagged by the surveillance system, Mr Siriwardhana said, pointing out that the majority of the cargo flagged for inspection contain naturally occurring radioactive emissions which are not hazardous.
However, checking for the presence of radiological contamination is vital for national security and public health, he points out. He explained that if cargo is not screened effectively, there could be food security and national security consequences. "There is a need for greater public awareness on the issue," he pointed out.
During the last few years there had been several instances where imported vehicle spare parts in cargo consignments were flagged for being contaminated with hazardous levels of radioactive isotopes such as Cesium 137 (Cs 137), Cobalt 60, Thorium 232 (Th 232) and Radium. Such hazardous cargo is detained and reshipped to its origin by the Customs.