International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigators failed to locate two highly radioactive thermoelectric generators during an extensive search in remote areas of western Georgia. The generators, which weigh one ton each, contain a similar amount of the radioactive element strontium-90 as was released during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The missing generators underscore the continued vulnerability of 'orphaned' radioactive sources left in many parts of the former Soviet Union. Experts regard the thermoelectric generators as among the most dangerous unsecured radioactive sources so far identified in Georgia. Mark Gwozdecky, an IAEA spokesman, confirmed that strontium-90 is an element that can be used in a so-called dirty bomb, which could be used by terrorists to contaminate a sizable area.
The two-week-long IAEA mission, which concluded June 24, sought to recover eight reactors. Six were found - the last two in February. However, unofficial information indicates there may be as many as six other such generators unaccounted for, according to Sergei Kakushadze, the head of Georgia's Nuclear and Radiation Safety Service.
"We are in a very difficult situation because we don't have exact information - about where they are or even how many there are - we have no official information from Russia," he told EurasiaNet in an interview.
There is no way to pinpoint the exact number of radioactive "sources" in Georgia, according to Gwozdecky. "They were looking for eight, six were found.
Ken Stier is a freelance journalist who has worked in several countries.