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Agricultural research body stored barrels of radioactive waste for years — report

Environmental Protection Ministry says the waste, recently removed from Rishon Lezion facility, was stored correctly and posed no risk

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative image of radioactive waste barrels. (vchal, iStock at Getty Images)
Illustrative image of radioactive waste barrels. (vchal, iStock at Getty Images)

The state Agricultural Research Organization, the Volcani Center, stored some 25 barrels of radioactive waste for years at its Rishon Lezion complex, in central Israel, according to a report by investigative journalist Uri Blau, published in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The waste, amassed over 10 to 15 years, was only discovered during an Environmental Protection Ministry audit in May following an update of regulations on the treatment of hazardous waste.

The ministry ordered the center to have the barrels sent immediately to a designated landfill site at the Dimona Nuclear Research facility in southern Israel, Blau wrote.

According to the report, the public could have been exposed to dangerous pollution had any of the barrels leaked or caught fire.

It said that Volcani Center guards had been informed that the waste was a product of isotopes H3 (triatomic hydrogen ion), C14 (radiocarbon) and P32 — phosphorus-32. The latter can penetrate up to 0.8 centimeters (0.3 inches) into living skin tissue.

The ministry said that the waste was similar to that found in many hospitals and institutions. “There is and cannot be any risk from storing such waste on the spot, and there is no fear of any possible harm to the public. This waste does not even raise the background radiation at all outside the barrels, even next to them,” a statement said.

“We emphasize that the barrels were in a designated waste room, as required, and during an inspection conducted during the tour, normal values ​​were measured in the background radiation levels in the area and there was no danger of exposure to radiation to workers or citizens at the site.”

The removal of such waste depended on the availability of the Dimona site and the only specialist transporter and it had now been carried out, the ministry said.

The Institute said that it had told Environmental Protection Ministry officials about plans to remove the material, which the ministry had accepted. Most radioactive materials used in research were short-lived isotopes that were no longer radioactive after six months, it added, and in all events, new research methods had made the use of the isotopes redundant.

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