EcoWatch

South Africa should adopt a “shoot-to-kill” policy to show that it is serious about halting the country’s rhino poaching crisis. Like hell? Like hell, yeah!

This is the controversial view of two University of Botswana academics‚ who raised a storm by urging South Africa to adopt the highly controversial policy.

Writing in the latest issue of the SA Crime Quarterly journal‚ Goemeone Mogomotsi and Patricia Madigele argue that the policy‚ adopted in Botswana in 2013‚ was a “legitimate conservation strategy” and “a necessary evil” to protect rhinos from extinction.

Mogomotsi is a legal officer in the University of Botswana’s department of legal services‚ while Madigele is a resource economics scholar at the university’s Okavango Research Institute.

They argue that the policy has reduced poaching levels in Botswana by sending out a message that if anyone wanted to poach in South Africa’s northern neighbour‚ it was possible that “you may not go back to your country alive”.

“We believe parks are war zones and that rules and principles of war ought to be implemented‚” they argue in the journal’s special issue on environmental crime‚ published jointly by the Institute for Security Studies and the Centre of Criminology at the University of Cape Town.

Guest editor Annette Hübschle makes it clear that the journal’s publication of the shoot-to-kill proposal was not in any way an endorsement of the policy and also suggests it would not be allowed under South Africa’s constitution. Hübschle and journal editor Andrew Faull also comment that South Africa and many of its neighbours are constitutional democracies that had abolished the death penalty.

“Introducing ‘shoot-to-kill’ may catapult us back to the dark days of apartheid and colonialism where the rule of law and fair process were applied selectively; ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies target the lowest tiers of organised crime networks while the upper echelons remain untouchable‚” they said.

Mogomotsi and Madigele‚ however‚ contend that Section 49 of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act allowed police and other arresting authorities to use “lethal force” or “reasonably deadly force”.

 “It is hence our view that South Africa’s legislative framework allows for anti-poaching forces to be empowered to shoot at poachers if it is in the interests of their safety and the security of the endangered species. To the moralists‚ such a position is very difficult to accept; however we argue that it is a necessary evil‚ considering the obligation to protect rhinos from extinction. It appears poachers will do anything to ensure that they kill these animals‚ unless they are made aware of the possibility of their own death in the process.”

They also note that Africa’s elephant population had declined by as much as 50% from 1970 to the early 2000s‚ while the continent’s black rhino population had plummeted by 67% from 1960 to the early 2000s. They also state that Zimbabwe’s elephant population increased from 52 000 to 72 000 animals after that country adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in the later 1980s‚ adding that shoot-to-kill was “the only anti-poaching method that clearly signals that wild animals deserve to live”.

They argue that there is a real risk of rhinos becoming virtually extinct in several parts of Africa and that South Africa “seems unable to deal with sophisticated criminals‚ including poachers and wildlife trackers”.

“In light of the above‚ South Africa is encouraged to seriously consider the adoption and implementation of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. We believe that Botswana has demonstrated that its policies … deter poachers in general and rhino poachers in particular.”

A spokesman for Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has not responded so far to requests for comment on the controversial proposal.

However‚ senior SA National Parks rhino special projects leader Major General Johan Jooste has made it clear that he does not support such measures.

In a separate interview in SA Crime Quarterly‚ Jooste said legal officials met rangers on a regular basis to train them on the legal rules of engagement with armed poachers.

“They drill it into them that you cannot take the law into your own hands because it is not nice to see a fatality‚ nobody likes to see that. And‚ by the way‚ we don’t support shoot-to-kill‚ it will not solve the problem. It will only demean and degrade who and what we are.

“We get really emotional people who respond to the barbarity of poaching depicted in a photo‚ by saying ‘shoot them’. But we as law-abiding citizens have never given consent (to such acts)‚ no matter how angry we were.”

Jooste also told Hübschle there was no evidence that killing poachers would solve the problem.

“I have never seen (an example) where (killing poachers) helps. It is misleading when one is protecting some rhinos very well to say it’s because of ‘shoot-to-kill’.”

Jooste said he believed that law enforcement alone would not solve the horn-poaching crisis‚ though anti-poaching teams were obliged to “buy time” for now‚ while other solutions were sought at a global and regional level.

“We all wish that rhino poachers were gone so that we don’t have to live like we live. I was in Kruger (recently); we’re asking impossible things of people. The stress and emotional strain that this so-called war causes are not things we should extend one more day than is necessary.” Source: TimesLive

Arg-aduana

A customs fraud that allegedly allowed a criminal network to steal millions from Argentina’s government looks eerily similar to how some of Venezuela’s private businesses and corrupt government officials have also benefitted from that Andean nation’s efforts to manipulate currency values.

Argentine authorities conducted 23 simultaneous search warrants and arrested 10 individuals accused of defrauding the state by more than $300 million between 2012 and 2015, according to a July 11 press release by Argentina’s Security Minister.

The scheme was rooted in the difference between the dollar’s official value against the Argentine peso and its informal black market price. Authorities claim that 55 front companies were used to falsify Anticipated Sworn Declarations of Importation (Declaraciones Juradas Anticipadas de Importación – DJAI). These documents allowed import companies to buy dollars from the government at a subsidized price in order to buy foreign goods. Argentina’s previous administration artificially boosted the value of a peso, so an official dollar was worth much less than on the black market. But under the scheme, DJAIs were produced for goods that were never imported and with the sole purpose of buying cheaper official dollars, before selling them at a much higher price on the black market exchange.

The investigation, initiated last year after an official complaint from the director of Argentina’s customs agency, focuses on a network of textile companies owned by members of Buenos Aires’ Korean community, according to Infobae.

Infobae, which described the well-structured network integrated by professional accountants as a “mafia,” notes that not a single official has been charged for corruption, even though the official press release admits that bribes were paid.

The scheme currently investigated in Argentina illustrates how organized crime can profit from government monetary policy, as well as a good dose of corruption.

The sum involved may appear large, but other regional country’s losses to such frauds are measured in percentages of the gross domestic product and reach the highest levels. In Guatemala, for example, corruption reached as high as the president, who was directly leading and benefitting from a vast customs fraud, according to government investigators prosecuting the case.

Argentina’s case, however, appears to have more similarities to Venezuela. Indeed, the latter’s government control of currency exchange rates and the sale of dollars was exploited to embezzle as much as $70 billion in a decade, reported The New York Times. And following a regional pattern, corruption stood as a primary factor enabling these frauds.

Source: InsightCrime.org and WCO IRIS Portal

BBC - Oz HS

Well, one things for sure – “customs” as an exterior entity is all but gone down under – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Tuesday he will set up a single ministry to oversee the country’s internal security, including police, intelligence, border protection and immigration affairs.

Turnbull said the measure was necessary to address the complexity and rapid evolution of security challenges in the country, including domestic terrorism, international organized crime and cybercrimes.

“We need these reforms, not because the system is broken, but because our security environment is evolving quickly,” Turnbull said at a press conference.

“When it comes to our nation’s security, we must stay ahead of the threats against us. There is no room for complacency,” he added.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will now head the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Border Force.

Turnbull said the initiative, which will take a year to implement, is the largest internal security reform in 40 years and that the creation of the super ministry emulates similar decisions taken by other countries such as the United Kingdom.

The new portfolio will be similar to the United Kingdom’s Home Office arrangement, a federation, if you will, of border and security agencies,” he told reporters on Tuesday. As part of the reform, a single national intelligence office will be the coordinating authority, and will comprise a new center that will be dedicated to cybersecurity.

The reform was approved despite initial resistance by Attorney-General George Brandis, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Minister of Justice, Michael Keenan.

Turnbull assured that both the federal police and ASIO will retain their independence and that actions by the security agency will have to be approved by the attorney general.

The opposition criticized the decision and accused Turnbull of trying to use the reform to consolidate his leadership in the face of pressure from the most conservative sections of the ruling coalition.

Australia raised its terror alert in September 2014 and has passed a series of anti-terrorist laws to prevent attacks on its territory.

Since then Australia has suffered five violent incidents and has thwarted 12 other potential attacks. Source: laht.com

A Hong Kong woman was caught late last month crossing the border into the mainland with an impressive 102 iPhones taped to her body — apparently, Shenzhen customs officers became a wee bit suspicious after noticing the woman’s unusually bulky clothing and strange stride.

They ordered her to take a walk through the X-ray scanner, which promptly sounded its alarm. A check revealed not only more than a hundred iPhones, but also 15 Tissot watches that were taped around her chest. In total, the smuggled items weighed about 20 kilograms, according to an Oriental Daily.

WCO Transit GuidelinesYes, the info junkie I am – this is what I was really after! The WCO chose to delay the real stuff. The WCO has published its Transit Guidelines, and a substantial compendium its is. Click here to access/download the file (5,4MB)! The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, has noted the possibility of developing a separate publication on transit encompassing national or regional best practices.

At the recent conference on transit, particular attention was given to the difficulties faced by landlocked developing countries.  During a special session on the issue, the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), several concrete suggestions were made on how to turn land-lockedness into land-linkedness.  The Director General of Paraguay Customs indicated that trade transactions in his country incur 30% additional costs due to Paraguay’s geographical limitations.  The Representative from UN-OHRLLS confirmed that on average, LLDCs bear up to 40 % additional costs on trade transactions.  The investment being made in hard infrastructure, such as roads, rail infrastructure, intermodal logistical hubs and dry inland ports, remains one of the main priorities in order to improve the situation.  Participants confirmed the need for harmonization and simplification of border control procedures, as well as the promotion of ICT for the management of transit systems.  This is of significant importance to LLDCs in Africa of which there are eight!.

Representatives from  several of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities present at the Conference, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also highlighted the need to ensure that establishment functioning legal frameworks are in place to address the main challenges of regional transit regimes.

The use of existing information and communication technology (ICT) solutions was also raised at the Conference.  Today, numerous technologies are available to secure the movement of goods, such as electronic Customs seals which are actively used on containers transported from China to Europe and have proved to be reliable and efficient.  The regional electronic tracking system used for goods transiting between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda was also mentioned as a successful project resulting from cooperation between neighbouring Customs administrations.  The Representative from ECOWAS informed participants that work has started to connect the IT systems of ECOWAS Members.  Regarding the challenges related to interconnectivity, the benefits of global implementation of the WCO Data Model were pointed out.

Railway transport is playing an increasingly important role in moving goods between countries in Eurasia, as explained by the Representatives from China and Russia Customs as well as the Representative from the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF).  It was pointed out that block trains now bring goods from China to Europe through Russia and Central Asian countries within a fortnight; four times faster than via maritime routes.  It is worth nothing that in the absence of a global instrument regulating the movement of trains across borders, which would obviously be of benefit to transit operations, bilateral agreements are the norm.

Transit systems, such as the European Union’s New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), the Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) and relatively new transit facilitation initiatives in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), were also discussed in detail.  Turkey, a user of two transit systems – NCTS and TIR – highlighted the importance of digitalization of the transit processes and explained its involvement in the e-TIR project aimed at providing an exchange platform for all actors (Customs authorities, holders and guarantee chains) involved in the TIR system.  In this regard, Turkey has participated in two pilot projects with two neighbouring countries, namely Georgia and Iran. Source: the WCO

Transit_Gallery_2

The World Customs Organization (WCO) hosted its first Global Conference on Transit at its Headquarters in Brussels.  This event, which comes right after the annual WCO Council Sessions, sees the launch of a new tool for the facilitation of transit and establishment of efficient transit regimes, namely the Transit Guidelines. At the end of the first day of the conference, all the panelists agreed on the usefulness of the Transit Guidelines for further developing and implementing their respective transit systems.  They urged the WCO to continue to update the Guidelines as a platform for future standardisation of transit systems.

Over 200 high-level delegates from more than 80 countries, including heads of Customs administrations, international organizations, development partners, the private sector and academia attended this Conference.

LLDC in AfricaThe landlocked countries in Africa are: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Customs administrations are naturally playing a prominent role in the smooth movement of transit goods and, as a result, are in a position to support economic development, particularly in LLDCs.

That is why the WCO began developing the Transit Guidelines with the aim of harmonizing different transit frameworks, unlocking the potential of LLDCs, and taking practical steps towards efficient transit regimes as foreseen by international legal frameworks such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the Vienna Programme of Action, and the Revised Kyoto Convention.  The Transit Guidelines contain 150 guiding principles and a variety of practical experiences of implementing efficient transit regimes, as shared by WCO Members and have been issued in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Russian. Source: WCO

Vietnam-Ivory

Vietnamese authorities have seized nearly three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit, officials said on Sunday, the latest haul to spotlight the country’s key role in the global wildlife smuggling trade.

Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa found 2.7 tonnes of tusks inside cartons on the back of a truck that was on its way to Hanoi, according to their website.

“This is the largest seizure of smuggled ivory ever in Thanh Hoa province,” the report said.State media said the elephant tusks originated from South Africa.

The truck driver claimed he was unaware of what he was transporting, according to a report in state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

There are now believed to be some 415,000, with 30,000 illegally killed each year. Prices for a kilogramme of ivory can reach as high as US$1,100 (Dh4,040).

Vietnam outlawed the ivory trade in 1992 but the country remains a top market for ivory products prized locally for decorative purposes, or in traditional medicine despite having no proven medicinal qualities.

Weak law enforcement in the communist country has allowed a black market to flourish, and Vietnam is also a busy thoroughfare for tusks trafficked from Africa destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China.

Last October, Vietnam customs authorities discovered about 3.5 tonnes of elephant tusks at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh city, all in crates of wood, including a hefty two-tonne haul packed into a single shipment.

In 2015, 2.2 tonnes of tusks, originating from Mozambique, were discovered and seized northern Hai Phong port.

And last week authorities in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory, the largest haul in the city for three decades.

While low level couriers are sometimes arrested across Asia very few wildlife trafficking kingpins are brought to justice. Source: The National

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

WCO Photo competetion winner 2017

Congratulations to Kyrgyzstan – a worthy winner considering the environmental elements. To view all the other entrants click here!

Source: WCO

Fighting BEPs in Africa

Thanks to Peter Draper and team for this policy briefing and discussion documents on Country-by-Country reporting.

Multinational enterprises (MNEs) can shift profits away from jurisdictions with comparatively high tax rates to jurisdictions with lower to no tax rates, and so avoid paying their fair share of taxes without breaking any single jurisdiction’s laws. This is in part possible owing to the restricted exchange of information between national tax authorities, which limits these authorities’ capacity to conduct accurate MNE audits.

The implementation package on Country-by-Country Reporting for Action 13 of the BEPS project, published on 8 June 2015, foresees that tax authorities will automatically exchange key indicators (such as profits, taxes paid, employees and assets of each entity) of Multinational Enterprise Groups with each other, therewith allowing tax authorities to make risk assessments as to the transfer pricing arrangements and BEPS-related risks, which may then serve as a basis for initiating a tax audit.  OECD Automatic Exchange portal.

By creating standard reporting templates and model legislation to collect MNEs’ relevant business information, Action 13 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan – Transfer Pricing Documentation and Country-By-Country Reporting – is seen as part of the solution to addressing MNE tax evasion. While representing a substantial step forward, the proposed set of recommendations has a limited scope and is technically onerous to implement in poor developing countries, where revenue authorities are severely resource-constrained. These issues are reviewed in relation to African resource mobilisation needs, and with an eye to the 2020 review of country-by-country reporting (CbCR) implementation.

To view/download the policy paper click here!

To view/download the discussion paper click here!

Source: Tutwa Consulting Newsletter June 2017

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The WCO Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG) met for the 41st time at the WCO headquarters on 3 and 4 July 2017. The meeting was chaired by Mr. John Mein from PROCOMEX and attended by representatives from 17 of the 21 PSCG members – AAEI, BMW, CATERPILLAR, E-BAY, FIATA, FONASBA, FONTERRA, GEA, HAIER, HUAWEI, IATA, ICC, IFCBA, MICROSOFT, OPORA, PROCOMEX and SAAFF.

During their two-day meeting, the PSCG discussed a number of very topical matters and developments, including current threats of protectionism to free trade, the state of trade facilitation and the implementation of the WTO TFA agreement and e-commerce. WCO members also attended part of the meeting and presented current WCO work programmes, including the upcoming review of the Revised Kyoto Convention and encouraged PSCG members to take an active role in this review work. The Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, also addressed the PSCG on its first day on issues relating to the current state of international trade.

Following the PSCG meeting, a dialogue between Policy Commission and PSCG members including Trade Observers was held to discuss current challenges with regard to free trade and globalization.  During break-out groups representatives from both the Customs administrations and private sector discussed the current problem landscape and what the international Customs community can do in collaboration with the private sector to support economic and social development and growth through the application of trade facilitation principles and measures. Source: WCO

airport

Currently, New Zealand Customs can stop anyone at the border and demand access to any of their digital devices.

A new law means Customs will no longer be able to demand that people entering the country hand over the passwords to their devices without reasonable cause.

Currently, Customs can stop anyone at the border and demand access to any of their digital devices.

But ACT leader and sole-MP David Seymour has secured a change to this in the new Customs and Excise Bill, which is soon to have its second reading. Officers will need to have “reasonable suspicion” or belief of offending. There will be no appeal process.

Figures obtained by TVNZ showed that more than 1300 have been digitally “strip searched” since 2013.

New Zealanders were the most commonly searched, followed by people from China.

“Unrestricted power to demand people’s passwords and search their files is an affront to civil liberties, and it will inevitably lead to violations of privacy,” Seymour said.

“Customs practices are simply out of touch with modern reality. In the past, people would only pack a suitcase with a few paper documents, but younger generations often travel with all their personal files. Meanwhile, if a genuine criminal is determined to keep incriminating files, they’ll do it on cloud storage, not on their personal device.

“This will prevent countless New Zealanders and visitors from facing intrusive and unjustified searches.

“Customs’ powers to examine and access electronic devices will be restricted through a two-stage search threshold. This means that Customs will only be able to search a device if they have a reasonable suspicion or belief of offending under the Act,” Customs Minister Nicky Wagner said.

“We have addressed concerns raised by the public during consultation around Customs’ powers to search e-devices at the border.

“The new search powers strike a balance between protecting privacy and ensuring that Customs can continue to protect our borders.” Source: Stuff (New Zealand)

WCO Photo Competition 2017

The winner of this year’s WCO Photo Competition will be announced this Saturday, 7 July 2017. To see the submissions of all this year’s entrants, please click here! See if you can identify the winner. Source: WCO

Blockchain

T-Mining is currently working on a pilot project that will make container handling in the port of Antwerp more efficient and secure. Using blockchain technology, processes that involve several parties – carriers, terminals, forwarders, hauliers, drivers, shippers etc. – are securely digitised without any central middleman being involved.

Just getting a container from point A to point B frequently involves more than 30 different parties, with an average of 200 interactions between them. Given that many of these interactions are carried out by e-mail, phone and even (still, nowadays) by fax, paperwork accounts for up to half of the cost of container transport.

“We aim to do something about this,” says Nico Wauters, CEO of T-Mining. This Antwerp start-up has developed a solution for a recognised problem in the port. When a container arrives in the port it is collected from the terminal by a truck driver or shipper. To ensure that the right person picks up the right container a PIN code is used. However, the PIN code is transmitted via a number of parties, which of course is not without risk. Somebody with bad intentions can simply copy the PIN code, which naturally can cause great problems.

“We have developed a very secure solution for this,” explains Nico Wauters. “Currently, when we want to transfer a valuable object we generally make use of a trusted intermediary to carry out the transfer. For instance, when you want to sell a house the notary not only carries out all the paperwork but also ensures that the money lands safely in your bank account while the buyer receives full title to the property, without any unpleasant surprises for either party. But this intermediary naturally does not work for free, and furthermore the additional step causes extra delay.”

The blockchain solution overcomes these issues, permitting safer and faster transfer of valuable objects, fully digitally and without a middleman. “With our blockchain platform the right truck driver is given clearance to collect a particular container, without any possibility of the process being intercepted. Furthermore our blockchain platform uses a distributed network, so that the transaction can go ahead only if there is consensus among all participating parties, thus excluding any attempts at fraud or undesired manipulations.”

A pilot project is currently running in the port of Antwerp with a limited number of parties. “We want to test whether it all works smoothly in practice,” says Nico Wauters. “Together with PSA, MSC, a forwarder and a transporter, we ensure secure handling of the first containers on our blockchain platform. Thanks to the City of Antwerp we even have an office in Singapore where we are working hard to introduce our solution there too. Our ambition is to serve the first paying customers by the end of this year,” Nico Wauters concludes. Source: Port of Antwerp

smoother1

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed new glass scintillators to detect suspicious nuclear material at borders and ports. The new scintillators are cheap, effective and more stable than the current scintillators in use.

Scintillators, which produce bright light when struck by radiation, are used extensively by the US Government in homeland security as radiation detectors. By observing the amount of light produced, and how quickly, the source of radiation may be identified.

Dr Patrick Feng, who led the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation project, began to develop new types of scintillators in 2010, in order to “strengthen national security by improving the cost-to-performance ratio of radiation detectors”. To improve this ratio, he had to “bridge the gap” between effective scintillators made from expensive materials, and affordable but far less effective models.

Although there are many types of scintillator available, the best-performing scintillators are made from trans-stilbene. This crystallised form of a molecule allows border security tell the difference between gamma rays, which appear naturally everywhere, and neutrons, which are often associated with threatening materials such as plutonium and uranium, by producing a bright light in response.

The gold standard scintillator material for the past 40 years has been the crystalline form of a molecule called trans-stilbene, despite intense research to develop a replacement. Trans-stilbene is highly effective at differentiating between two types of radiation: gamma rays, which are ubiquitous in the environment, and neutrons, which emanate almost exclusively from controlled threat materials such as plutonium or uranium. Trans-stilbene is very sensitive to these materials, producing a bright light in response to their presence.

These crystals, however, are too fragile and expensive (around S1,000 per cubic inch)  to be used in the field, and instead, security personnel will tend to use plastic-based scintillators, which can be moulded into large shapes but are ineffective at differentiating between different types of radiation or detecting weak sources.

In order to find a good alternative, Dr Feng and his team at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, CA, began to experiment with organic glass components, which are capable of discriminating between different types of radiation.

Tests demonstrated that scintillators made with organic glass performed even better than the trans-stilbene scintillators in radiation detection tests.

The researchers were able to improve their design further when they drew a parallel between the behaviour of LEDs, which produce light when electrical energy is applied, and scintillators, which respond to radioactive sources. They found that adding fluorine, which is used in some LEDs, into the scintillator components helped stabilise them. This allowed for the organic glass to be melted down and cast into large blocks without becoming cloudy or crystallising upon cooling.

The result was an indefinitely stable scintillator able to differentiate between non-threatening radioactive sources, such as those used in medical treatments, and those which could constitute threats. The organic glass components are cheap and easy to manufacture, and do not degrade over time.

Next, the researchers will cast a large prototype for field testing, and hopefully demonstrate that the scintillator can withstand environmental wear and tear, for instance, due to the humidity of ports where checks are carried out. They also hope to adjust the scintillator to distinguish between safe sources of gamma radiation, and those which could be used to make “dirty bombs”. Source: Sandia Laboratory