With widespread applications in medical, industrial, research and energy fields, the safe and assured shipment of radioactive materials is both a public health and economic issue. An international conference in Vienna this week will gather experts from governmental agencies, transport organizations and radiation source manufacturers to discuss transport issues involving radioactive materials.
The upcoming Meeting of the IAEA Steering Committee on Denial of Shipments, organized and hosted by the IAEA, is the third in an ongoing series of talks intended to seek solutions and promote awareness of the issue. The two-day meeting will run from 17-18 January.
"Denial of shipment of radioactive materials affects industry, health care, and the nuclear field in equal measure," said Mike Wangler, IAEA Unit Head of the Safety of Transport of Radioactive Materials Unit. "Our priorities for this week´s meeting are to make inroads on the establishment of a database to track denial of shipment incidents and to enhance composition of the committee."
Denial or delay of transportation of radioactive sources can adversely affect various applications, including medical treatment and diagnoses, sterilization of health care products, scientific research and development, and usage in nuclear power production. With an estimated 75 million medical treatments involving radioactive material taking place annually, rejection or interruption of shipment can have a deleterious effect on patients receiving cancer treatments or those awaiting diagnoses.
To date, the steering committee has addressed the denial of the shipment issue by proposing training courses and workshops for shipping industry employees, addressing complications in national and international transport regulations, and forming working groups to tackle further specialized issues.
As part of its efforts to train workers on shipment of radioactive materials, the IAEA expects to hold regional workshops on denial of shipments in China, Italy, Madagascar and Tanzania during the first half of 2008. A regional workshop in Uruguay last year was comprised of representatives from shipping companies, transport firms, customs offices, regulatory bodies and security personnel.
The group also aims to improve data gathering by discussing the creation of an "Instance of Denials of Shipment Database." Since no system is currently in place to quantify the scope of the problem, the committee is placing emphasis on formation of the database. Culling data from the database will help the committee to focus on problem points within the carriage and delivery ecosystem.
In addition to the steering committee´s work, the IAEA also publishes Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, an authoritative set of provisions that seeks to protect people, property and the environment from the possible effects of radiation during transport. The publication provides for a comprehensive approach governing packaging of materials, physical handling of shipments, and carriage and storage of radioactive material in transit. Several IAEA Member States and international organizations concerned with shipping have adopted these guidelines for their own regulations.