IAEA ships lethal Lebanon cobalt to safety in Russia
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has airlifted deadly radioactive cobalt materials out of Lebanon and sent it to Russia to ensure they did not fall into the wrong hands, the agency said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
U.S. President Barack Obama has thrown his weight and extra funding behind a growing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) programme to secure loose nuclear materials worldwide to ensure nuclear smugglers or terrorists do not get hold of them.
An IAEA statement said a plane carrying 36 Cobalt-60 sources, each one radioactive enough to kill a person within minutes, reached Russia safely from Lebanon on Aug. 30. The cobalt materials are now securely stored in Russia, it said.
"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 challenges to this 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."
The Cobalt-60 sources came from an irradiator used for an agricultural project that ended 10 years ago. Staff members that knew how to properly look after the irradiation had since departed, the IAEA statement said.