Focus: Non-Intrusive Inspection

Handling obsolete NII equipment

25 October 2021
By the WCO Secretariat with contributions from Paul Etiubon Ekpenyong (Nigeria Customs Service), Eng. Hassan Wasswa Sentamu (Uganda Revenue Authority), Joris Groeneveld (Dutch Customs), Shangmin Sun (NUCTECH) and Kevin Davies (Smiths Detection)

What is to be done when non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment has reached the end of its life? In this article, we asked Customs administrations and manufacturers how they manage the decommissioning of NII systems.

The average operating life of conventional imaging equipment is estimated to be 10 years in the field. It is therefore important, when buying such equipment, to foresee how it is to be disposed of, especially as decommissioning some parts of the equipment, such as radiation sources and parts containing heavy metals, requires specialist knowledge and equipment, as well as a government licence.

It is worth noting that some Customs administrations do not own their own scanning equipment and instead rely on third parties to procure and operate scanners. In such a scenario, the decommissioning is not their responsibility.

The solution chosen for the decommissioning process depends on whether or not the legislation provides for the scanning equipment, when procured by the government and treated as government property, to be handed over to a manufacturer or a company specialized in the disposal of such equipment at the end of its life cycle.

If the legislation does allow this, a Customs administration could include the decommissioning of the scanning equipment as a requirement in the tender process. Under this option, the cost of decommissioning should be considered as part of the contract award criteria. If this requirement is not included in the initial purchase contract, a second option could be for the decommissioning of the existing system to be included in the tender process for the procurement of a replacement system. A third option would be to launch a separate tender solely for the decommissioning of the scanning equipment.

One issue with decommissioning NII scanning equipment is that manufacturers own the intellectual property rights (IPR) to some parts of the equipment. These include the radiation source and related peripherals, accelerators, proprietary software and firewalls. The parts with no IP protection include shielding walls, buildings, cabling, barriers, vehicles and traffic lights. As part of the contract, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) can be offered the possibility of removing all parts of the equipment which are subject to IP protection in the decommissioning process. If the company responsible for decommissioning the old equipment is not the OEM, it will have to come to an agreement with the OEM as to how to proceed with respect to those parts that are protected by IP rights.

Some legislation may provide that obsolete scanning equipment should still be treated as government property or be sold by public auction. As a result of the public auction, the equipment moves into the hands of a public or private company. Here again, the equipment manufacturer should be offered the possibility of removing all parts of the equipment that are subject to IP protection.

In the Netherlands

The Customs Administration of the Netherlands works with a government agency called Domains which is in charge of organizing auctions to sell government-owned equipment that needs to be decommissioned. Under the agreement between the two entities, all parts of the scanning equipment which is the intellectual property of the OEM must be returned to it. One exception is small scanners, which are returned to the OEM in their entirety.

Take the example of decommissioning mobile scanners, for instance. All vehicles remain the property of the government and must be sold by auction following the removal of all IPR parts.

The Customs Administration of the Netherlands does not bear any of the costs of decommissioning its obsolete NII equipment. On the contrary, Domains remits the money from the sale to the Customs Administration after deducting its administrative fees.

The decommissioning procedure is stipulated in the contract signed at purchase. The contract also lays out detailed information as to which parts of the equipment are considered to be protected by IP rights, and indicates the expected timeframe for the decommissioning, as well as the anticipated cost and who is expected to bear it.

In Nigeria

In Nigeria, the procurement of NII equipment for cargo inspection is managed by the Federal Ministry of Finance, which is the umbrella ministry for both the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the internal revenue service. NCS staff have access to fixed scanners, gantry scanners, mobile scanners and baggage scanners purchased from three different suppliers. The purchase contracts provide for the procurement and installation of the equipment, as well as for the training of Customs staff, but not for the decommissioning of the equipment, either by the OEM or by the equipment supplier.

The cost of decommissioning is therefore borne by the NCS. The process is as follows:

  • NCS sends an application to the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) for the decommissioning of the obsolete equipment.
  • NNRA staff visit the scanner sites and inspect the equipment; this incurs a fee.
  • The NCS Radiation Safety Advisor develops a “decommissioning plan” detailing the preferred decommissioning method and the resource requirements, as well an estimate of the costs and the funding mechanism.
  • NCS submits the decommissioning plan to the NNRA and pays the requested fees.
  • The NNRA sends licences to the NCS to begin the decommissioning process.
  • The NCS Radiation Safety Advisor dismantles the fixed scanner and transports its parts and any other equipment to an approved safe and secure location.
  • NCS stores those parts that are protected by IP rights, such as radiation sources, accelerators, software and firewalls, and contacts the OEM to ask how to proceed with respect to this equipment.
  • NCS hands over the parts which are the Federal Government’s property to the authority in charge of organizing auctions or to a recycling operator, against a fee.
  • NCS drafts the Final Report on the decommissioning, which clearly identifies the location of the facility in which the parts that are protected by IP rights are stored and what was done with the other parts.

Drawing on its experience, the NCS highly recommends including the decommissioning of all of the equipment as a requirement in the tender process.

In Uganda

The Customs Department of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) initiates the decommissioning process through its Procurement and Disposal Unit, and must inform the Uganda Atomic Energy Council in writing of its intention to dispose of radiation generators or accelerators and obtain its approval for the operation.

The Unit staff, with the assistance of the equipment supplier or OEM:

  • carefully identify the X-ray tubes and the parts surrounding the generator to ensure they are not radioactive,
  • remove the head of the generator unit,
  • detach the cables that power the equipment, and any other electrical components,
  • dismantle the parts of the radiation generator,
  • test the equipment parts for the presence of any hazardous material,
  • hand over the dismantled parts (except the X-ray tube) to be sold to recycle or scrap dealers as scrap material,
  • compile a report on the dismantling exercise stating, among other things, the location of any hazardous material and of the X-ray tube and other parts, as well as an updated inventory of the radiation sources, which is kept at the Customs facility.

The technical team is composed of trained and experienced individuals and only they are allowed to carry out the exercise. They receive guidance from suppliers as to the best way possible to dispose of components which cannot be sold.

Smiths Detection

Smiths Detection seeks to extend the product life of NII equipment for as long as possible by installing new software or by replacing parts that give equipment a second life with additional functionality and capabilities. Such upgrades sometimes combine both software and hardware. Some equipment is still delivering results to customers after 15-20 years of life.

If it is truly the end of life for a system, the best thing a customer can do is contact the manufacturer. OEMs have the most information on the various parts that make up a system. Of particular importance are the X-ray generating components. Additionally, around and within the NII system there are many elements, such as lead, rare-metals, lithium batteries and computing equipment, which must be disposed of responsibly. The OEM can and will give guidance on their disposal. It can also help to advise and ensure that all sensitive data is wiped from systems, and should be consulted to ensure that the IP data relevant to the OEM is protected.

Smiths Detection has worked with customers on the decommissioning of NII equipment in jurisdictions where responsible disposal is mandated by law as well as where it is not. This demonstrates the growing importance of responsible disposal globally. Customers can request support by directly engaging with the company or through its partners and distributors. The company will usually work with a disposal company based locally.

The Customs administration should contact the OEM when it is considering replacing or decommissioning equipment. While having close relationships with customers is one way to ensure this is done, building decommissioning or life-extension reviews into tenders or contracts would likely have a stronger impact on ensuring responsible disposal of equipment at its end of life.


The fact that OEMs are entitled to recover and recycle the components of IPR-protected equipment at the end of the product life cycle alleviates the burden placed on the customer. NUCTECH provides this service for free, especially for X-ray generators and proprietary software. It can also provide a paid recycling service for the entire system. The costs depend on the customers’ specific requirements, local policies and regulations.

There is a gain in efficiency if disposal is handed over to the OEM, be it fully or even only partially. OEMs have better knowledge of the working principles, system composition and functionalities of their equipment. By applying reverse processing, a machine can be disassembled quickly, minimizing the time required for the disengagement and ensuring more professional, more secure and more environmental-friendly recycling, in full compliance to the requirements of local laws and regulations.

Below are the three main scenarios:

  • the original sales contract provides for the recycling and decommissioning of parts of the equipment or the entire system;
  • if there is no provision in the contract, NUCTECH carries out discussions with the customer and subsequently enters into a written agreement on the equipment recovery and treatment – this service is sometimes provided at no charge, in which case the agreement takes the form of a deed of gift;
  • If the customer handles the decommissioning, NUCTECH provides guidance during the process and physically supervises the disposal of parts that are protected by IP rights (IPR-protected parts).

The customer needs to give at least 10 days’ notice to the OEM to enable it to make proper arrangements for the disposal of IPR-protected parts. A designated field technician is then assigned to the removal process, and a dismantling plan communicated to the customer, taking into account any specific constraints and requirements. Together with assistants, the field technician completes the work within a few hours, as IPR-protected parts can be dismantled and removed in a quick and easy way using simple tools. No special arrangements need to be put in place by the customer to facilitate the removal. Space requirements are kept to the minimum, with no disruption to the smooth operation of the port or border crossing.

The IPR-protected parts that are removed are recycled or destroyed. This is done either at a local facility or in China where NUCTECH headquarters are based. If both options are viable, the company engages in discussions with the customer to take a decision. Disposal working plans and implementation are properly documented, and all operations are recorded, to enable the customer to monitor the disposal process.


The WCO recently added a section on decommissioning in its Guidelines for the Procurement and Deployment of Scanning/NII Equipment. By providing practical examples, we hope that we have been able to shed some light on how to handle this process in an efficient, safe, sustainable and cost-effective manner.

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