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UN starts search for abandoned radioactive sources in Georgia

UN starts search for abandoned radioactive sources in Georgia

The United Nations atomic energy agency today launched a search for two abandoned radioactive sources in the Georgia.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is organizing the two-week search for Strontium 90 generators in a 550 square kilometre area of western Georgia. The effort will involve some 80 people, mostly Georgian nationals, as well as radiation experts from the IAEA, India, France, Turkey and the United States, who will set out on horseback, foot and by car.

Six highly radioactive Strontium 90 sources, which were used as thermo-electric generators for communication stations in remote areas, have been recovered so far, and the IAEA believes that two more remain at large.

The Agency has been working since 1997 to upgrade levels of radiation safety and security in the country, where over 280 radioactive sources have been recovered since the mid-1990s. Some of these sources were discovered on abandoned Soviet military bases and all have been placed in safe storage.

The search marks the first operational phase of an action plan to conduct IAEA-supported radiological surveys of selected areas in Georgia. The action plan covers two phases of a campaign to survey selected areas of Georgia with sensitive radiation detectors and instruments to locate so-called "orphan" radiation sources that are outside of regulatory control.

"The situation in Georgia may just be an indication of the serious safety and security implications orphaned sources may have elsewhere in the world," said Abel Gonzalez, IAEA Director of Radiation and Waste Safety. "The IAEA's work in Georgia is part of a comprehensive plan that includes Agency assistance to States to help them regain control of such orphan sources."

The second phase - an aerial and road survey covering different territory - is scheduled to begin in early September. The objective is to locate and recover other known or suspected orphaned radioactive sources in the country.