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Radiation Expert Heads to Lithuania to Promote Safety

Friday, October 18, 2002

As part of a new international safety initiative, “Radiation Safety Without Borders,” the University of Rochester’s radiation safety officer is heading to Lithuania to advise workers there how to better monitor radiation sources and nuclear materials. P. Andrew Karam, Ph.D., will also get a first-hand tour of two of the handful of Chernobyl-style nuclear reactors still operating.

During his visit Karam will discuss with Lithuanian officials the security of radioactive materials such as those used in medicine and industry. He’ll talk about new ways to detect whether sources are being smuggled through the region, the safest ways to transport radioactive materials, and how best to calculate fetal radiation exposure when a pregnant woman is exposed to X-rays. He will also learn how the Baltic nation is coping with the huge cache of radioactive materials left behind in the former Soviet republic.

“When the Soviets pulled out, they left a lot of sources of radiation, but little paperwork,” says Karam.

Karam will arrive in the nation’s capital, Vilnius, on October 28, after attending a scientific meeting in Germany, He’ll spend nearly a week meeting with Lithuanian officials and speaking about his research as a guest of the Lithuania Institute of Physics.

One highlight will be a tour of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which supplies 80 percent of the nation’s power and enables Lithuania to export energy to Poland, Russia and Belarus. The Chernobyl-style reactors have been significantly upgraded but are still scheduled to be taken out of service by the end of the decade. Karam is making the trip as a member of the Western New York Chapter of the Health Physics Society (HPS).

Karam is one of the nation’s leading experts on radiation safety and is a founding member of the Homeland Security Committee created by HPS to help the public, government officials, and emergency personnel prevent or cope with a terrorist incident involving radiation, such as the detonation of a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Karam and other HPS officials have developed a brochure to help emergency workers evaluate the risk of a range of radiation incidents and to respond immediately and appropriately.

The initiative by HPS has already resulted in trips by other scientists to Costa Rica and Jamaica. Since funding for the “Radiation Safety Without Borders” campaign is currently up in the air, Karam is digging into his personal bank account to make the trip.

“Everyone has an obligation to do what they can to make things better,” says Karam. “I’m spending less on this trip than a lot of teachers spend on supplies for their classes. It’s nothing extraordinary.”

Closer to home, Karam’s crew at the University calibrates and repairs radiation-monitoring equipment for a range of companies and other institutions throughout Western New York. The safety the team provides makes possible a variety of medical tests and treatments that help keep thousands of people healthy each year.

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