In the aftermath of a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, in August 2020, an International Atomic Energy Agency team visited the country at the government’s request and found no evidence of artificial radionuclides and no increase in radiation levels. The powerful blast, which was caused by an explosion of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed more than 200 people and leveled numerous buildings while leaving other buildings standing with possible structural damage. The IAEA recently announced that a different team of experts has traveled to Lebanon with a new mission: to assist the nation in the use of non-destructive testing (NDT) to check the structural soundness of buildings that were impacted by the explosion.
Work in progress: During the week-long mission, the IAEA team—including three experts from Italy, Malaysia, and Spain, as well as one IAEA staff member—is training national authorities and professionals in the practical application of NDT using specialized equipment in buildings in central Beirut.
NDT is used to evaluate the integrity and properties of components, machinery, and structures without damaging the tested object, and will help to identify any necessary repairs to affected buildings. The IAEA promotes the use of NDT to maintain quality control standards for the safe operation of nuclear and other industrial installations, The agency has previously provided NDT training and equipment to countries affected by earthquakes, including in Albania in 2019, Mexico and Ecuador in 2018, and Nepal in 2015.
“The IAEA’s NDT-related expertise can play a crucial role in disaster prevention and managemment,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA director general. “The agency is providing technical support in this area to help Lebanon examine whether damaged buildings are safe.”
A nation’s recovery: The IAEA initially supported Lebanon’s emergency response efforts by sending an assistance mission to the country in September 2020. In addition to confirming that radiation levels had not increased after the blast, the IAEA provided health-related support, as many hospitals were damaged in the explosion.
“We have faced many challenges in our response to the explosion,” said Bilal Nsouli, director general of the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission. “The COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complexity. The IAEA’s support will help us to develop a sustainable national capability to use NDT in multiple locations throughout the city.”