Enzo Montagna pulled his Fiat station wagon into Voltri Terminal Europa, a sprawling port on the western edge of Genoa, on Italy’s Ligurian coast, and flashed his ID at the guard at the terminal’s gate. As he did every time he came to the port, Montagna hooked a left and parked in a small lot near the low-slung customs office.
In Italy, all cargo containers carrying scrap metal get checked for radiation, by hand, before they’re allowed off the docks. At Voltri, this job falls to Montagna, a 49-year-old independent consultant certified as an expert in radiation detection by the Italian government. By the time he arrived that morning, longshoremen had gathered eleven 20-foot-long, 8-foot-wide containers from across the terminal, relying on manifests to determine which ones needed to be scanned. The boxes were lined up in two neat rows near the terminal’s entrance.
Montagna, dressed in a polo shirt, jeans, and an orange safety vest, grabbed his radiation monitor—a tan Ludlum Model 3 about the size of a toaster. He plugged in a heavy sensor wand and set the device on the ground 20 yards away from the containers. The Model 3 emits a high-pitched beep every time it detects a radioactive particle; Montagna turned it on, and the meter’s needle swung hard to the right, burying itself past the maximum reading of 500,000 counts per minute. Instead of its usual staccato chirps, the machine was whining continuously and frantically.
That didn’t worry Montagna. The port’s humid air so...