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Plutonium contamination contained inside UN atomic agency’s laboratory

Plutonium contamination contained inside UN atomic agency’s laboratory

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that no plutonium has been released into the environment following a weekend incident in one of its laboratories.

A storage room at the IAEA’s Safeguards Analytical Laboratory in Seibersdorf – some 35 kilometres from Vienna – was contaminated with plutonium yesterday due to a pressure build-up in a small sealed bottle kept in a storage room.

Radioactivity was also detected in two other rooms in the facility, which is equipped with a filter system to prevent the release of contaminants into the environment, and access to the affected areas has been restricted until they are decontaminated.

The IAEA has informed the Austrian authorities of the incident, which will be fully investigated, according to a press statement released yesterday.

As part of the agency’s safeguards verification work, the Laboratory regularly analyzes small samples of nuclear material, such as uranium or plutonium.

In a related development, the IAEA said in its most recent annual report that nuclear development is being driven increasingly by the need to respond to challenges posed by climate change, the food crisis and energy needs.

Accessing modern energy is crucial to promoting development, according to the agency’s Annual Report for 2007.

“Faced with a growing shortfall of energy and rising fossil fuel prices, many countries are now looking to nuclear power as a way to increase the diversity of their energy supplies,” the publication, released today, said.

It also noted that there is renewed interest in nuclear power since it releases practically no greenhouse gases into the environment.

“Millions of people benefit from a wide range of applications of nuclear technology,” such as plant breeding to enhance food security, insect pest control and life-saving medical procedures, the report said.