Egyptian Scientists Put Tech Radiation Safety Training To Work

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. February 22, 2012 – A team of five Egyptian scientists put their New Mexico Tech radiation hazard training to good use last month.

On January 20, 2012, an angry crowd stormed a nuclear facility at Al Daba’a, near Alexandria, Egypt, raising concerns about possibly ruptured radioactive sources and potential contamination. A volunteer group from the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority responded immediately and successfully evaluated and secured the hazard.

The five responders were students who had trained at New Mexico Tech with Trinitek Services Inc., an Albuquerque company that provided the comprehensive radiation safety and response training to Egyptian scientists in April and June 2010.  The Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Alyom published an article in January 2012 about these brave men and their effective response. The U.S. Embassy was apprised of the situation and was impressed with the response.

Dr. Gloria Chavez of Trinitek Services said, “This proves our training approach works! We were very proud of our students.”

The 2010 training sessions included classroom instruction in Albuquerque, followed by rigorous response practices and testing at the New Mexico Tech’s training facility in Playas, N.M. The training program addressed the lack of field experience by providing extensive hands-on field drills by experienced health physicists.

“The training partnership between Trinitek Services and New Mexico Tech provides exceptional international training at world-class facilities,” Chavez said.

After the incident, one of the Egyptian scientists said, “We are grateful to get the training. These are topics we had not been taught before. The hands-on training in Playas and Albuquerque increased our confidence and helped us work together for incident command. The course addressed a weakness we had in our program … to make workers more confident in doing their job.”

Dr. Ahmed Hasan, New Mexico Tech Senior Research Scientist, said “The New Mexico Tech training delivers technical and soft skills to allow response to unpredictable events. With the exponential increase in the peaceful applications of nuclear energy, this training is essential for human capacity development in the Mideast and elsewhere.”

Hasan said this training program highlights New Mexico’s role in supporting many of the Department of Energy initiatives that brings high-tech jobs and business opportunities to small business in the state. He said New Mexico’s weather and terrain are similar to many countries in the Middle East, Gulf States and North Africa, which positions New Mexico as a favored site for such field training and can lead to more opportunities for cultural exchange with the foreign visitors.

Dennis Morrison, the director of New Mexico Tech’s Institute for Engineering Research and Applications, said the six-week training course was designed to help the Egyptian authorities deal safely with radioactive materials used in medicine, academia, industrial radiography, well-logging, sterilization, remote power generation, and other uses. The final week of the training was in Playas, N.M., the former mining town that Tech purchased in 2003 for use as a research and training facility. At Playas, the Egyptian scientists applied their classroom knowledge in intensive, real-time drills that simulated various scenarios for recovery and mitigation of highly radioactive sources. The scientists practiced realistic responses to unexpected radiological incidents.

Trinitek is a minority-owned small business founded in Albuquerque in 1999. The company is a leading international consulting firm that specializes in nuclear safety and safeguards, hazard mitigation, environmental protection, radiation safety and waste management. The joint effort of the national laboratories, New Mexico Tech, and Trinitek provided a unique set of skills and customized practical training that enabled effective recovery of abandoned radioactive materials from civilian sites as well as characterizing potential radiological hazards, such as was encountered at Al Daba’a, Egypt, in January 2012.

The training was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative through the Los Alamos National Laboratory Off-Site Source Recovery Program and Sandia National Laboratories. The National Nuclear Security Administration established the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to improve safety and security protocols for high-risk nuclear and radiological materials around the world. The Initiative aims to protect nuclear and radiological material at civilian sites around the world.

– NMT –