Managing Disused Radioactive Sources

IAEA trains operators in Egypt, recovers source in Sierra Leone

In the absence of an appropriate lead container,
the source was placed in an “internal container”
that was engineered with available materials
and with layers of lead, Sierra Leone, June 2013.
(Photo: IAEA)

24 October 2013 | Radioactive sources are widely used for beneficial purposes every day – in industry, medicine, agriculture and research. However, sources that fall outside effective control pose safety and security risks. To protect the public from the hazards of ionizing radiation, “cradle-to-grave” control of radioactive sources is essential.

The IAEA helps its Member States to increase their own capacity to manage disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS). A May 2013 training workshop in Egypt focused on pre-treatment, or conditioning, for the safe disposal of radium-226 and other DSRS. The workshop was held under an interregional technical cooperation project (INT9176, Strengthening Cradle-to-Grave Control of Radioactive Sources in the Mediterranean Region), and was organized in collaboration with the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA), with the support from the European Union.

The lectures on cradle-to-grave DSRS management were followed by four days of hands-on practical training on preparing and conducting conditioning operations. In one task, the participants conditioned 12 brachytherapy radium needles with a total activity of 18 mCi (670 MBq) into one capsule, demonstrating their capabilities to conduct such operations. Brachytherapy is an effective method of treatment for cervical, prostate, breast, skin cancer and other kinds of tumors.

In urgent cases, or where local infrastructure and human resources are inadequate, the IAEA also provides direct assistance by sending qualified expert teams and mobile equipment to the country and to deal with the problem.

Such was the case in Sierra Leone, when the country notified the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) in June 2013 that an industrial source (Caesium-137) had been discovered in a home in Freetown, the capital. The Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority of Sierra Leone had recovered and transported it to its headquarters. When the country requested assistance from the IAEA for recovering and safely managing the orphan source, the Source Management Unit at NEFW’s Waste Technology Section was called into action.

Based on the IEC’s Assistance Action Plan, including emergency travel arrangements, an expert was already at work in Freetown only four days after the official request. The assistance mission was accomplished by properly conditioning the source, performing a dose assessment and putting it under long-term storage in Sierra Leone.

By Juan Carlos Benitez-Navarro (NEFW)

This workshop was carried out with funding by the European Union and the IAEA.

This story was first published in the September 2013 issue of the NEFW Newsletter.

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