The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the body dealing with radiation safety matters in the United Nations family, next week launches its first aerial reconnaissance effort to track down discarded radiation sources in the Republic of Georgia.
At the request of the Georgian Ministry of the Environment, a six-man team under the auspices of the Agency will survey a selected area of Georgian territory in a concerted attempt to find any discarded radioactive sources or any contaminated area that could be a hazard to human health. The team will use a helicopter equipped with a gamma radiation detection system provided by Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique of France. The mission is planned to last from May 23 to June 16.
Since Georgian independence upon the break-up of the former Soviet Union, nearly 300 discarded radioactive sources have been found in the country. Inadvertent encounters with some of these items have already had serious consequences — most notably, when eleven Georgian border guards had to be hospitalized in 1997 after being irradiated at a military site. Other sources have been recovered lying in open countryside.
The aim of the IAEA mission is to provide reasonable assurance that there is no serious radiation risk from discarded radioactive sources to the population (approximately 1.5 million) living in the surveyed areas. If weather conditions permit, two surveillance flights of two hours each per day will be carried out during the whole survey period.
The team will work closely with the Georgian authorities. The findings will be reported to the IAEA's Director General who is responsible for passing on the results of the aerial survey to the Georgian Government.