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Strengthening Source Control and Regulatory Frameworks in the Caribbean

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Trainees participating in a capacity building event—organized through RLA9081—search for orphan sources, during a field exercise. (Photo: J.C. Benitez Navarro/IAEA)

12 IAEA Member States in the Caribbean are participating in a new technical cooperation project[1], launched this month, which aims to accelerate the development of nuclear and  radiation safety infrastructure in the region.

The project, which follows on from two similar projects launched in 2016, aims to build upon the progress already achieved in the region: Some countries have already established interim regulatory agencies, while others have already drafted or are presently drafting nuclear legislation. The new project will focus on training related to regulation-drafting, radiation protection at the end-user level and the operational functions of regulators—including notifications, authorizations and inspections—to promote greater radiation safety in the region and to ensure that the participating countries can extract all the industrial, research and medical benefits of nuclear science.

Of the 14 countries and independent territories that make up the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), nine have joined the IAEA in the last seven years. As these new Member States expand and accelerate their engagement with nuclear technologies and techniques, a corresponding need to establish regulatory infrastructure and to ensure sustainable control over radiation sources has emerged.

In 2016, two technical cooperation projects were launched, designed to develop and strengthen the regulatory oversight of activities involving sources of ionizing radiation in the Caribbean. Through these projects, support was provided to 11 Caribbean countries as they worked to institute nuclear laws and regulations, trained staff in the fundamentals of radiation safety and regulatory functions, established national registers of radiation sources and developed capacities for effective preparedness and response to radiological emergencies.  

The recently-concluded cradle-to-grave project benefitted from the participation of eight IAEA Member States in the Caribbean. (Photo: IAEA)

Starting from Scratch

Radiation sources, including radioactive materials, are increasingly being used by private businesses, researchers and healthcare professionals in the Caribbean to improve agricultural outputs, deliver life-saving medical services, conduct research and make industrial processes more efficient. As part of its mandate to support the safe and secure use of nuclear technology, the IAEA promotes the cradle-to-grave management approach to source control: From their initial extraction or synthesis until their eventual storage or disposal, radioactive sources must be subject to continuous control and regulation.

In 2016, sealed radioactive sources (SRS) and ionizing radiation generators—such as medical X-ray equipment—were in use, despite a limited or a non-existent regulatory oversight in many countries in the CARICOM region. In others, despite the presence of  regulatory authorities, the exact nature and extent of radiation source use remained unclear or was otherwise undocumented. Without concrete information regarding who, where, how and what radioactive sources are used, it was challenging to achieve lasting radiation safety. One of the technical cooperation projects[2]  launched that year aimed to address these information gaps, by supporting  Caribbean newcomers to the IAEA in their development of national inventories of radioactive sources. Using the IAEA’s  Regulatory Authority Information System (RAIS), training courses in 2016 and 2017 clarified how to establish and maintain effective records and registries of national source inventories, in addition to designing broader, national strategies for radiation protection. Ten participating countries and territories—including Curaçao, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands—succeeded in establishing the first national registers, which identify which institutions are using radioactive sources, their parameters, corresponding certificates and required safety measures they have implemented.

Ezra Ledger of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Bureau of Standards said: “Participation in the project has resulted in increased knowledge and awareness of the uses, benefits and risks of radiation sources and the need for effective management of sources in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The second project[3] launched in 2016 focused on the development of regulatory capacities, with the aim of encouraging greater alignment with the IAEA Safety Standards. Through training courses—both national and regional—and coordination meetings, the project helped to develop a new cadre of professionals in the region, equipped with the technical skills and acumen required to evaluate radiation protection measures, implement safety regulations and to devise emergency preparedness and response plans. These training course participants are expected to form the core of steering groups, which in turn will ensure the establishment of regulatory bodies in the Caribbean.

“Jamaica has benefitted tremendously under the project, with support which resulted in the full establishment of the regulatory body with the passage of legislation and regulations, as well as capacity building to carry out the requisite regulatory functions,” said Tracey-Ann Warner of the Hazardous Substances Regulatory Authority. “There is an environmental monitoring programme underway, with the end result of building a radiological map of the country.”

“Essential entities, such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and Housing, the Customs Department and the Ministry of Works, as well as the Security Forces, have increased their awareness of their role in the use of radiation technologies in the country, leading to an enhanced coordination of efforts among such entities to effectively manage and control radiation sources,” said Andrew Thompson  of Department of Environmental Health Services in the Bahamas.

[1] RLA9087, ‘Building Capacity and Sustaining the National Regulatory Bodies’

[2] RLA9081, ‘Strengthening Cradle-to-Grave Control of Radioactive Sources’

[3] RLA9082, ‘Establishing and Strengthening Sustainable National Regulatory Infrastructures for the Control of Radiation Sources’

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