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Do No Harm

IAEA Produces New Booklet on Sealed Radioactive Sources

A teletherapy source (used for cancer treatment) was stored improperly inside a shipping container in a parking lot. The orange device on top measures radiation dose rates. (Photo: E. Reber/IAEA)

Do you know what a "sealed radioactive source" is? Most people don't.

A sealed source is radioactive material in solid form that is permanently sealed in a capsule. Radioactive sources are not only used in medical treatment, but in prospecting for oil and gas, measuring the density of soil for construction projects, and sterilizing food and medical equipment. Sources can be quite small, yet some contain radioactive material that can be harmful, even fatal, if handled inappropriately.

Even when a sealed source is no longer useful, it's still dangerous to people and the environment because of the radiation it continues to emit; radiation that can cause serious sickness, and even death.

Sources may cause harm when they are stolen and used for nefarious purposes, or when misplaced by those who are responsible for their care and storage. To prevent these things from happening, the IAEA has a number of publications that give specific technical instructions to governments, nuclear regulators and users of sealed sources.

The IAEA's new booklet Sealed Radioactive Sources is an easy-to-read, introduction to the management (tracking, storage and disposal) of these sources. It provides information on potential radiation hazards and accident prevention, as well as many real-world case studies in under 40 pages. This publication is available in print or by downloading the electronic version.

It is written specifically for government agencies, the public, and medical and industrial sectors whose responsibility is to prevent accidents that result when organizations lose control of the sealed radioactive sources in their care. Readers will learn about how to spot a sealed radioactive source and how to reduce risks from sealed radioactive sources in industry, medicine, and metal recycling. It provides sound advice to first responders during a radiological emergency, and to border control officers who may come across radioactive sources being smuggled between countries.

Last update: 27 July 2017