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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


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31/08/2006

Gamma radiography accident in Africa: IRSN provides assistance and expertise in the field of accidental irradiation

Four victims of accidental irradiation recently arrived in France to receive medical attention. They are currently undergoing treatment at the Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart, near Paris, in the haematology and plastic surgery departments. One of the victims is showing signs of severe radiation exposure that affects both haematological and cutaneous areas.

 The accidents took place this summer in Dakar and Abidjan at the French Group Bureau Veritas’ Senegalese and Ivorian subsidiaries following Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) using gammagraphy equipment. In Dakar, a technical failure occurred in the gammagraphy equipment and led to the radioactive source iridium 192 being unexpectedly retained in the flexible tubing, known as the source ejection duct, instead of being returned to its protected storage container. This malfunction was not detected and the flexible tube was transported in its unprotected state to Abidjan where the anomaly was finally detected. The source has now been secured.

In both Dakar and Abidjan a certain number of people were in contact with the unprotected source for varying amounts of time and, as a result, they were exposed to radiation.

As soon as it became clear to IRSN that the accident almost certainly involved human victims, the Institute immediately gathered all information needed to perform an initial diagnostic evaluation of the gravity of the recorded injuries. Bureau Veritas then received IRSN recommendations to transfer those most badly affected for medical care in France at the Percy Military Training Hospital, a specialised establishment that is already internationally renowned for its experience in the treatment of accidental irradiation.

An IRSN team made up of dosimetrist-physicists, radiation biologists and pathologists worked in close collaboration with the haematology and plastic surgery departments at the Percy Military Training hospital to assess the radiation doses received by the victims and then to develop the most appropriate therapeutic strategies, using, if necessary, new innovative techniques that were successfully employed during two irradiation accidents that occurred in Chilli and Belgium recently.

Following IRSN recommendations, the company immediately took measures to identify all those who had potentially been exposed. With the aim of publishing a medical report following the accident, IRSN will begin assessing the individual exposure cases. This assessment will be carried out by combining physical dosimetry - using the probable exposure scenarios - with biological dosimetry by analysing the radiation-induced chromosomal anomalies.

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