Source AP ©

Honduras authorities apply to Atomic Energy Agency after discovery of radioactive waste cargo

Honduras is in need of professional help after discovering a cargo container believed to contain radioactive waste in one of Central America's largest ports.

Government official Marcos Flores said the shipment is believed to be Honduran X-ray supplies headed to Taiwan for recycling, but they want to be sure that the material is handled correctly. He said the International Atomic Energy Agency has promised to send specialists this week to determine how to open and inspect the cargo.

"We don't have specialists here in Honduras because we've simply never had a radioactive emergency like this," Flores said.

George Gatling, the American owner of the Honduran shipping company involved, Inversiones Materiales, said he did not know what it contained and declined to give information on his client.

"They just hired me to send the container to another country," he told local media.

The shipment was seized Saturday in Puerto Cortes after inspections detected radiation levels more than 130 times higher than those allowed.

Puerto Cortes is one of several major ports chosen by the U.S. government to participate in an international nuclear detection program. In April, the port began screening shipments for nuclear and radiological materials that could be used by terrorists to build bombs.

Other participating ports are Port Qasim, Pakistan; Southhampton, England; Salalah, Oman; Port of Singapore; and the Gamman Terminal at Port Busan, Korea.

Data gathered from the scans are sent almost immediately to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stationed at the overseas ports.

More than 250,000 containers pass through Puerto Cortes each year, carrying US$1.8 billion (euro1.3 billion) worth of goods from Central America to destinations around the world, including the United States and Europe.

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