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Search Begins for Missing Radiation Sources in Republic of Georgia

2002/08
Vienna/Tbilisi

An international team assembled by the IAEA will begin a search today for two abandoned Strontium 90 generators in a ca. 550 sq km area of Western Georgia. About 80 people, mostly Georgian nationals, will take part in the two-week search beginning on Monday, 10 June. Radiation experts from the IAEA, India, France, Turkey and the U.S. are also part of the team, which will set out on horseback, foot and by car.

Such highly radioactive Strontium 90 sources were used as thermo-electric generators for communication stations in remote areas. Six have been recovered so far, and it is believed that there are two more at large in the designated area to be surveyed.

The IAEA has been working with Georgia since 1997 to upgrade levels of radiation safety and security in the country, where over 280 radioactive sources have been recovered since the mid-90's. Some of these sources were discovered on abandoned Soviet military bases and all have been placed in safe storage. In February 2002, a Georgian team supported by the IAEA successfully recovered two unshielded radioactive Strontium 90 sources that were found in the forest late last year. Two of the men who originally came across the sources are being treated in France and Russia for severe radiation sickness and burns.

The 10 June 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 search 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" says 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.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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