Radioactive Cobalt Rescued From Lebanese Lab

Photo courtesy DMKTirpitz, Wikimedia Commons

News today that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) successfully repatriated highly radioactive sources from Lebanon to Russia whence they came.

The trouble was 36 Cobalt-60 sources with a combined radioactivity of 3,500 curies. A single source is powerful enough to kill a person within minutes of direct exposure.

The Cobalt-60 sources were part of an irradiator used for biological pest control that had been lying dormant at an unspecified agricultural institute in Lebanon since 1996, reports Nature.

The irradiator once sterilized male Mediterranean fruit flies. When the project ended all knowledgeable staff left the institute, abandoning the Cobalt-60 in shielded containers safe  from contamination—only the containers themselves were not secured in the building.

IAEA officials originally identified problems in 2006. But after the first first-fact finding mission Israel bombed the airport and the recovery project had been on hold ever since waiting for Lebanon to normalize. On 30 August the Cobalt-60 was finally flown to a secure storage facility in Russia.

Hope that’s not an oxymoron.

At any rate, the Lebanese operation is part of a wider initiative to secure radioactive materials from scientific research, medicine, and industry that might be used to make dirty bombs.