Cradle-to-grave: managing disused sealed radioactive sources in the Mediterranean region

Yellow metal capsules containing sealed radioactive sources.Radioactive sources are widely used for beneficial purposes in industry, medicine, agriculture, research and education. For example sources are used for medical diagnostics and therapy, for controlling industrial processes, and for sterilizing food and medical products. 
Sealed radioactive sources consist of radioactive materials isolated from the environment in a sealed metal capsule.
Radioactive sources decay over time, eventually reaching the end of their useful lives. However, their activity levels can still be quite high. These disused sources can pose a significant hazard to people. Finding solutions for the safe and secure long term management of disused sources is, therefore, one of the most important steps in eliminating radiation hazard to the public.
In the Mediterranean region, a number of countries have no special facilities for the management or disposal of radioactive waste. Disused sealed sources are often kept without adequate protection and may be lost, stolen or abandoned. In such cases, they are called “orphan sources.”
The IAEA helps its Member States to strengthen their national management and regulatory infrastructure for the control of radioactive sources, including the safe and secure disposal of disused sources.
Countries in the Mediterranean region have come together under an interregional IAEA technical cooperation project to jointly develop harmonized and integrated regional approaches to controlling radioactive sources throughout their life cycle from “cradle to grave”.
Through the interregional project, the IAEA is working with countries in the Mediterranean region to help them ensure adequate and permanent control of radioactive sources to protect the public from the hazards of ionizing radiation and to prevent disused sources from becoming “orphan sources.” The project has helped countries to safely manage disused sources, including their storage and disposal.
Through the project, workshops and training provided guidance on the management of disused sealed radioactive sources and gave practical demonstrations of conditioning practices. The objective of conditioning is to produce a waste package acceptable for handling, storage, transportation or disposal.
The process for management and disposal of radioactive sources requires sound regulations, guidance and policies at both national and regional levels to determine acceptable and adequate practices that meet the IAEA Safety Standards and contribute to ensuring overall nuclear and radiation safety.Under the TC project, Mediterranean Member States receive support and advice on various strategies for the control of disused radioactive sources, including “orphan sources.” This ensures that they are properly managed at all times, covering processing, transportation, storage and disposal. 
The project has built capacities in human resources and the technology to increase national and regional capabilities to manage radioactive sources. Improved capabilities will help to properly deal with disused radioactive sources in an effective and safe manner. 
The European Commission has providing significant support to the IAEA’s TC project as part of its overarching goal to promote nuclear and radiation safety around the world. The experience and approaches of the European Union in the management and control of disused radioactive sources are being shared with the participating countries as examples of good practices.
When the project is complete, it will have contributed to strengthening the control of disused sealed radioactive sources on the shores of the Mediterranean, thus reducing potentially dangerous events involving poor or absent control of disused sealed radioactive sources. 
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Photos: Mohamed Maalami, National Center for Energy Sciences and Nuclear Techniques (CNESTEN), Morocco
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Captions: Katerina Monikainen
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Design: Katerina Monikainen
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Special thanks to J. Miguel Roncero Martín for providing background material for this photo essay.