Two deadly radioactive devices, left over from a Soviet-era generator, were discovered by three men gathering wood from a forest in Russia. The objects had melted the surrounding snow, and the men dragged them back to their camp for warmth. Exposure to the cylinders? high levels of the radioactive element strontium-90 left the men nauseous, and they suffered radiation burns. One of the men is now in very serious condition, and may be transferred to a hospital in France.
?The cylinders may be small, but they are extremely radioactive," says Lothar Wedekind, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UN agency sent a team of experts to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to help take the nuclear devices to a safe place. ?It?s crucial that they are removed to a safe place as soon as possible,? says Wedekind. The IAEA team will bring heavy protective shields to the area to encase the cylinders, then transport them to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
Russian, U.S. and French experts will meet in Tbilisi to discuss what to do with them. They will also discuss how to track down other discarded nuclear material in the area.
Since September 11, there have been fears that discarded nuclear material will be used to make a ?dirty bomb,? which is capable of spreading high levels of toxic radiation. ?This is a threat we have to take very seriously, particularly given the fact that there is likely to be more such material in Georgia,? says Wedekind.
The cylinders are not the first discarded nuclear devices to be discovered in Georgia. Three years ago, a fisherman found one in a river-bed which was polluted with large amounts of strontium-90.
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