January 7, 2010
US experts conduct training on locating radioactive materials
A team of experts from the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was in Uzbekistan in December to lead a training course in locating and securing radioactive materials.

The course, which was organized in cooperation with the Uzbekistan Institute of Nuclear Physics and held from 14 to 18 December at the Customs Institute of the State Customs Committee, was designed to train people to use high-tech meters, probes and other equipment to find and identify high-activity radioactive sealed sources. Once the searchers know the nature of the source, they can determine how to package and remove it to a safe location.

About 25 people from the Institute of Nuclear Physics, Republican Central Isotope Laboratory, State Inspectorate “Sanoatkontekhnazorat,” State Customs Committee, and the Ministries of Public Health, Defense and Emergency Situations participated in the training. They are involved in maintenance of detection devices at Customs and border control stations, public safety programs, emergency response, and inspections of medical and industrial sites where radioactive materials may be used.

At the end of the training, the equipment worth more than US$130,000 was distributed among the trainees’ agencies to use in searching sites throughout Uzbekistan that could contain radioactive sealed sources.

Radioactive sealed sources are used in a wide range of medical and industrial activities, including treatment of cancer and other diseases, powering remote stations such as navigation beacons, and use in equipment that gauges depth and density in industrial processes.

Such radioactive material – which could be cesium-137, cobalt-60, strontium-90 or other isotopes – can pose public health or security dangers if they are abandoned, lost, stolen, or never were under anyone’s regulatory control. Locating them has clear public health and safety benefits, as well as being part of anti-terrorism efforts.

“This training highlights the cooperation between the United States and Uzbekistan to prevent orphaned radiological sources from falling into the wrong hands,” said Andrew Bieniawski, NNSA’s assistant deputy administrator for Global Threat Reduction. “Searching and securing these types of radioactive materials helps ensure that they cannot be used to build a radiological dispersal device, or ‘dirty bomb’.”

NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GRTI) has provided similar training in more than 30 countries. Following the training and equipment donations, searchers in other nations of the former Soviet Union have found and secured radioactive materials in a variety of locations.

The training provided an opportunity to network and exchange ideas about pooling resources to search for radioactive sealed sources for many participants in Uzbekistan who had not previously met.

The search-and-secure training was the latest activity in the ongoing partnership between the NNSA and its counterparts in Uzbekistan.

In 2006, the NNSA’s GTRI worked with the Government of Uzbekistan, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove 63 kilograms (139 pounds) of highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent nuclear fuel from the Uzbekistan Institute of Nuclear Physics. The HEU had been provided during the period of the Soviet Union to fuel a nuclear research reactor at the Institute.

The HEU, which could be used in an improvised nuclear device, was transported in 2006 by train under heavy security to a facility near Chelyabinsk, Russia, to be reprocessed.

GTRI has also been assisting the Institute of Nuclear Physics convert its research reactor from the use of HEU fuel to the use of low-enriched uranium fuel, which cannot be used in an improvised nuclear device. GTRI also has worked with Uzbekistan to construct a secure storage facility for radioactive sources found in Uzbekistan.

The training, reactor conversion, nuclear material removal, and protection of radioactive sources are all part of GTRI’s mission to reduce and protect high-risk nuclear and radiological materials located at civilian sites worldwide.

The NNSA was established by the US Congress in 2000. It is responsible for ensuring the safety and performance of the US nuclear weapons stockpile, is prepared to respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the US and abroad, and works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction.



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