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Radioactive Material in Georgia Leaves 3 Ill

January 06, 2002|From Associated Press

TBILISI, Georgia — Three lumberjacks who found containers with highly radioactive materials in a forest were hospitalized in serious condition, and hundreds of villagers living nearby have been thrown into panic, Georgian officials said Saturday.

The two containers with strontium 90, believed to have been used in signal beacons during the construction of a nearby hydroelectric plant 30 years ago, were found last month near the village of Dzhvari, about 135 miles northwest of Tbilisi, the capital.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tbilisi on Saturday to visit the site, said Soso Kukushadze, head of the radiation and nuclear security department of Georgia's Environment Ministry.

The area, about 550 yards in diameter, has been fenced off, Kukushadze said. A special task force was being assembled, but he warned that obtaining the equipment to remove the strontium was a question of financing.

"We hope the government allocates the necessary money," Kukushadze said.

The containers are emitting radiation at a rate of 15 roentgens an hour from a distance of 5 feet--thousands of times higher than normal background radiation.

About 3,000 villagers live in the area, and many have started to report headaches and other symptoms, but Kukushadze dismissed the cases as "radiation phobia."

"There is absolutely no threat to the health of the residents of Dzhvari," Kukushadze said.

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