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IAEA and Russia Kick Off Work to Manage Disused Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators

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The IAEA and Russia have launched a project to strengthen management of disused Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA) 

The IAEA and Russia have launched a project to strengthen management of disused Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs), which used to be a source of electricity in remote areas. Many RTGs are now beyond their useful life, and due to the harsh environments in which they operated, some exhibit signs of degradation that require additional management for long-term safe and secure storage.

At a project launch meeting in Vienna from 30 September to – 2 October 2019, experts from Cuba, Russia and the United States developed the outline of a draft manual for conditioning and long-term management of RTGs no longer in use. They also agreed on a step-by-step work plan to assist States, upon request, in managing their disused RTGs. Tajikistan is the first country that has requested to apply the approach.

“With support from the IAEA, Russia and international experts, we will enhance radiation safety and the security of radioactive material by conditioning disused RTGs in our inventory,” said Ilkhom Mirsaidov, Director of Nuclear and Radiation Safety Agency in Tajikistan.

RTGs were often used in former Soviet Union countries to power remote lighthouses, meteorological stations and other facilities.

Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, Director of IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security, noted that the devices used a substantial amount of highly radioactive material to generate power.

“This project will help States reduce security concerns and safety challenges related to RTGs beyond their useful life,” he said.

The project involves supporting countries in preparing their RTGs for long-term management in line with the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.

The project, financed by the Russian Federation through the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund, is part of IAEA’s assistance to Member States, upon request, in the management of disused sealed radioactive sources.

Other IAEA work in this area include a recently launched Multi-Regional Project on Sustainable Management of Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources in Latin America, African and Pacific countries, a Regulatory Infrastructure Development Project in Latin America and the Caribbean and an IAEA technical cooperation project on sustaining cradle-to-grave management of radioactive sources.

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