IAEA nuclear leak did not reach environment: probe

Friday, August 29, 2008

VIENNA (Reuters) - A small amount of plutonium which leaked from an ageing International Atomic Energy Agency laboratory near Vienna did not reach the environment, according to an independent inquiry cited by the U.N. watchdog on Friday.

The August 3 incident at the Seibersdorf analytical lab, which occurred overnight and caused no injury, raised a stir in Austria, which hosts the IAEA but rejects nuclear energy itself as fundamentally dangerous.

In a statement, the agency said test samples of soil, plants and water provided by outside Austrian experts found no release of radioactive material into the environment from the incident.

A tiny amount of plutonium, a common nuclear bomb fuel, contained in an acid solution spilled from five small glass vials in a storage safe when one of them burst from a build-up of pressure, the statement said.

Virtually all of the contamination was confined within the steel-walled safe and nobody was in the area at the time, it said. The IAEA's nuclear regulator determined that the lab's safety systems worked properly and contained the contamination.

Last year the IAEA director warned that its main analytical lab, built in 1970, was outmoded and no longer met safety standards, and asked for 27 million euros ($42 million) in extra funding from member states to modernize it.

Located 35 km (20 miles) southeast of Vienna, the lab analyses samples of nuclear material, mainly plutonium or uranium, taken during agency surveillance missions worldwide, and researches peaceful uses of nuclear science.

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