Issues for Government Agencies

Emergency Preparedness: Safety and Security Issues

National authorities must be prepared to deal with emergencies that can arise with use of sealed radioactive sources. Regulatory authorities must not only have procedures in place to respond to such emergencies, but must require all users and facilities as part of the licensing process to have appropriate emergency plans and emergency reporting mechanisms in place, at the local, regional and national level. Depending on the nature and activity of the source involved, such accidents could have lethal consequences and cause widespread radioactive contamination as well as financial losses to businesses and people. Clean up and monitoring of exposed persons requires significant resources, careful planning, and coordination between government agencies (such as environmental protection, health and social services). The IAEA offers technical assistance in the emergency response and medical assessment of injured persons. However, preventing an accident from happening in the first place is far more cost effective. The IAEA regularly publishes the findings of its investigations into major accidents so that lessons learned can be used to prevent similar accidents. Such findings are also reflected in IAEA technical and Safety Series documents.

Medical Preparedness and Response

With the recent rise in terrorist activity, the likelihood of a terrorist group using a source as a radioactive dispersal device must be included in preparedness planning both by the regulatory authority and the facilities where sources are used or stored. High activity industrial radiography sources, industrial irradiators, thermoelectric generators and teletherapy sources are especially hazardous. The security needed depends on the potential consequence of a stolen source. Some security measures are intended to protect a source, to detect any unauthorized access, and to delay thieves until a response is made. Facilities should have procedures in place to prevent, detect and respond to a possible theft. Customs officers should be given clear guidance on how to proceed if a source is found, for example, at a border control point. Similarly, national regulatory and police authorities should be prepared to respond to such situations.

Security of Radioactive Sources

 


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