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Fostering Cradle-to-Grave Management of Radioactive Sources: Interregional Project Concludes, Paving the Way for Future Activities

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Practical exercise for training course participants in search and recovery operations for disused sealed radioactive sources. (Photo: C. Benitez-Navarro/IAEA)

To protect people and the environment from the potential adverse effects of ionizing radiation while fostering the safe use of radioactive sources, the IAEA has been working with 32 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and in Latin America to support the ‘cradle-to-grave’ management of sealed radioactive sources. Since the launch of the interregional technical cooperation project in 2016, considerable progress has been made in promoting the cradle-to-grave approach to the safe management of sealed radioactive sources (SRS) enhancing capacities for the application of the approach. Some participating countries are currently considering the use of  technologies, developed with IAEA support, for disused source management, while others have observed tangible improvements in the safety and security of radioactive sources over the course of their engagement with the project.

Following a series of expert missions, meetings and training courses, the interregional project drew to a close at a November 2019 event, when participants reviewed its achievements and established the objectives of a follow-up project, launched in January 2020[1].

Regulators and operators from 10 new countries – Bangladesh, Iran, Jamaica, Moldova, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine and Viet Nam – will participate in the follow-up project in addition to the 32 countries already involved, leveraging the newly-developed capacities of the ‘graduates’ of the predecessor project to attain greater self-reliance in nuclear safety, waste management and radiation protection.

The 32 IAEA Member States that took part in the initial project were Argentina, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Georgia, Greece, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Delegates from participating Member States gathered in Vienna in late November 2019 to take stock of progress and plan for the future. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

Taking stock of progress

Sealed radioactive sources have been used widely in industry, medicine and research for many decades. The management of SRS is a complex endeavour relying on the presence of a legislative framework and national regulations, as well as on the availability of suitable technologies, licenced facilities and well-trained staff.

The four-year-long interregional project built upon the achievements and outputs of an earlier project[2] that focussed on the safety and security of SRS in countries in and around the Mediterranean region. The interregional project in the Mediterranean provided a framework for the delivery of 17 expert missions, 23 meetings and 18 training courses, leading to improvements in regulatory control of SRS in the participating countries. For example, following workshops on the development of regulatory infrastructure, many countries made improvements to relevant sections of their legal and policy frameworks for the management and control of SRS. In addition, registries of SRS and disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS) were established, and national staff were trained in the maintenance of the associated databases, facilitating the work of national regulators.

The IAEA delivered hands-on training exercises throughout the project, providing Member State experts with an opportunity to learn—under real world conditions—how to search for, handle, characterize, condition and store radioactive sources.

To help countries consider the advantages and disadvantages of the different possible approaches for the management of DSRS—such as recycling, re-use, regulatory clearance, removal, storage and disposal—the IAEA developed the Disused Sources Integrated Decision Evaluation Support Tool (DSIDES). In concert with national data related to the activity levels, numbers and types of DSRS in the country, the tool can be used to evaluate and compare possible management options on the basis of their costs and the required infrastructure needs. This comparison can support the work of national decision-makers as they decide upon an appropriate management strategy, ultimately resulting in disposal.

After trial exercises in Jordan and Indonesia, held in April and June 2019 respectively, the DSIDES tool was presented to countries participating in the interregional project during an October 2019 meeting in Tunisia.

Activities under this project are complemented by other IAEA initiatives, such as the new Nuclear Security Multi-Regional Project on the Sustainable Management of Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources.

Hands-on training for participants in handling category 3 to 5 disused sealed radioactive sources. (Photo: M. Novakovic/IAEA)

Paving the Road Ahead

Despite the progress and achievements which characterize the 2016 cradle-to-grave project—including the establishment of basic regulatory frameworks and the development of new capacities needed to exert control on SRS—significant assistance is still required by many countries. With these needs in mind, a new interregional project has been launched to further enhance the infrastructure for the cradle-to-grave management of SRS.

Beginning in January 2020, the new interregional project will benefit from the participation of the 32 countries which took part in the former project, as well as at least 10 newcomers: including Bangladesh, Iran, Jamaica, Moldova, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine and Viet Nam. Other countries, ready to benefit from the cradle-to-grave approach, may join the project in the future.

Project INT9182 is conducted by the IAEA, with co-funding from the European Commission, Spain and the United States of America.

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[1] INT9186, ‘Sustaining Cradle-to-Grave Control of Radioactive Sources — Phase II’ 

[2] INT9176, ‘Strengthening Cradle-to-Grave Control of Radioactive Sources in the Mediterranean Region’

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