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Looking for More: IAEA and National Experts Discuss Security of Radioactive Sources

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Khaliq Muhammad (second from left), IAEA Division of Nuclear Security, launches the Eighth Working Group on Radioactive Source Security. Other panel members left to right: Alessia Rodriguez y Baena, Scientific Secretary of the Working Group, Surur Kedir Mohammed, Chair of the Working Group, and Muzna Assi, IAEA Emergency Preparedness Officer. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA).

How the IAEA can best assist national authorities worldwide in their efforts to manage radioactive sources after their useful life and to search, find and secure “orphan” sources was high on the agenda of the Working Group on Radioactive Source Security this month.

The eighth annual meeting of the Working Group, held 15-18 April 2019 at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, brought together 90 participants from over 60 countries, including from several countries attending for the first time. The participants, mostly from regulatory bodies and medical and industrial facilities, discussed particular challenges of securing radioactive sources and shared concrete examples of operationalizing the recently published Guidance on the Management of Disused Radioactive Sources.

"In almost every country there are radioactive sources, and the community of users in medicine, agriculture, science and industry is expanding,” said Alessia Rodriguez y Baena, Scientific Secretary of the Working Group and Nuclear Security Officer in the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. “We bring experts together. We share our challenges and our solution-oriented and concrete approaches to greater security of radioactive sources and disused radioactive sources.”

The Working Group included technical sessions, case study presentations and interactive and break-out sessions on topics ranging from insider threat and regulatory infrastructures to transport security and response to nuclear security incidents. Participants shared success stories of involving local media and the general public to help locate stolen or lost radioactive sources, of installing locks and cameras at a hospital radiotherapy room to help detect intrusion, and of fostering nuclear security culture among hospital staff. 

The IAEA experts shared best practices for securing radioactive material in use and storage, and highlighted how the safe, secure and peaceful application of nuclear technology is key to promoting sustainable socio-economic development in a country.

“Radioactive sources are vital to our standard of living and to our economies; and are frequently transported across national boundaries,” said Surur Kedir Mohammed, Director of Notification and Authorization Directorate at the Ethiopian Radiation Protection Authority and Chair of the Working Group. “Ensuring that these sources are not used for malicious purposes presents unique challenges as well as opportunities for increasing our cooperation with each other.”

Since its inception in 2012, the Working Group has facilitated the development of an international and multidisciplinary community for the shared goal of securing radioactive sources throughout their lifetime. At this meeting, the Working Group approved revised terms of reference, expanding its mission from security of radioactive sources to security of radioactive material not permanently sealed in a capsule or closely bonded.

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