Thursday, September 10, 2009


New York, Sep 10 2009 11:10AM
The United Nations nuclear watchdog has safely removed powerful radioactive sources out of Lebanon, including Cobalt-60, a single source of which is enough to kill a person within minutes if directly exposed.
The mission was completed on 30 August, after a plane carrying the high-activity cargo safely touched down in Russia, where the sources are now securely and safely stored, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a release.
“Given the political situation in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon we saw this source as vulnerable to malicious acts. If it was stolen it could cause a lot of damage to people,” said Robin Heard, an IAEA radioactive source specialist who oversaw the mission.
The cargo included 36 Cobalt-60 sources which were from an irradiator that was once used for an agricultural project some 10 years ago. The project ended and the staff that knew how to properly look after the irradiation had left the organization.
Then in 2006, the Council of the European Union provided nearly 4 million Euros to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund to secure high activity sources, like these, in the Middle East.
The mission involved extracting the sources from the irradiator and moving them to special transport containers. They were then flown to Russia on a plane hired specifically for the job.
Mr. Heard said the challenges to this particular project were all security related.
“Just after we went on our first fact finding mission to Lebanon in 2006, the Israelis bombed the airport, so there was no way we could fly the sources out at that time. So there was a long delay while we waited for things to normalise in Lebanon,” he said.