Kyrgyz Authorities Secure 1,000 Radiation Sources


In the past 12 months, Kyrgyzstan has secured or disposed of 1,000 items of radioactive material deemed to be vulnerable to theft or terrorism, BBC News reported on October 7, 2005. According to Kyrgyz authorities, there are 500 more items to secure, and an unidentified amount of material is still missing.[1]

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the centralized control of radioactive materials collapsed, and many radioactive sources were lost or abandoned. With U.S. assistance and in cooperation with the IAEA, the Kyrgyz government is now working to secure radioactive materials and prevent terrorists from acquiring them.[1]

At present, Kyrgyzstan does not have a complete inventory of radioactive sources. According to IAEA representative Carolyn McKenzie, the Kyrgyz government needs a plan of action to search for the missing sources. Currently, radioactive materials often end up as scrap, and it is typically scrap workers who find them and run the risk of radiation poisoning, MacKenzie said.[1]

The largest missing sources are believed to be RadioisotopeThermoelectric Generators (RTGs) that were used to power mountain-top radio transmitters. They are easy to carry and therefore can be attractive to terrorists.[1] [Editor’s Note: RTGs were built during the Soviet era to power space facilities, remote lighthouses, meteorological stations, naval navigational aids, and some military facilities. RTGs are powered by strontium-90, a radioactive material with a halflife of 200 years, and contain 30,000-300,000 curies of radioactivity, making them extremely dangerous if dismantled. As such, they could provide material for a radiological dispersal device (RDD). No data is available on the number of RTGs remaining in Kyrgyzstan, but according to a May 2003 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, there were, at that time, approximately 1,031 of them in the former Soviet Union.][2]

According to Kubanychbek Noruzbayev, section head at the Department of Ecology and Nature Management of the Kyrgyz Ministry of Environment and Emergency, the movement of sources across national borders is an area of concern. He noted that Kyrgyzstan lacks a sufficient number of border guards, that radiation monitoring of vehicles crossing the border is unsatisfactory, and that villagers who live along the border complain corruption is high. According to Noruzbayev, there have been several cases of individuals trying to import radioactive sources illegally into the country.[1] No further details on these incidents were provided.

Abstract Number:  20050270
Headline:  Kyrgyz Authorities Secure 1,000 Radioactive Sources, Continue to Search
Date:  10 October  2005
Bibliography:  Reuters
Material:  Waste/Scams/Contaminated Material


[1] Rob Broomy, “Kyrgyz Hunt for Radioactive Matter,” BBC News, October 7, 2005.
[2] “Nuclear Nonproliferation: U.S. and International Assistance Efforts to Control Sealed Radioactive Sources Need Strengthening,” U.S. General Accounting Office, May 2003.

October 10, 2005

This article is part of a collection examining reported incidents of nuclear or radioactive materials trafficking in or originating from the Newly Independent States.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.