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Sealed radioactive sources

Sealed radioactive sources are widely used for beneficial purposes in medicine, industry, and agriculture. A sealed radioactive source is radioactive material that is permanently sealed in a capsule or bonded and in a solid form.

Sealed radioactive sources are either installed in devices that allow the source to move safely in and out of the shielding when the radiation beam is to be used, or in devices that allow a beam of radiation to be released while inside the source’s shielding.

Radioactive materials and machines that produce ionizing radiation are regulated in most countries. Those working with sealed radioactive sources are required be authorized and trained, and they must have the support needed to handle unexpected situations that may arise when a source is used. Regulations usually also require security measures, but despite these measures, theft of sources and accidents continue to occur.

When lost or stolen radioactive sources fall into untrained hands, they can pose serious risks to anyone who is close to or touches them, particularly if the sources’ shielding has been damaged. Accidents have resulted in serious injuries and even deaths in incidents where people have found sources without knowing what they were or the risks involved in handling them. A sealed source can be identified by using radiation detection instruments. Most, but not all, are labelled with a trefoil.

The IAEA supports Member States in their work to create and maintain effective systems to assess, control, prevent, detect and respond to safety and security events involving  radiation sources, including radioactive material. As part of this work, the IAEA offers reporting and information systems, safety standards and security guides, access to lessons learned through training and information exchange, review services including Integrated Regulatory Review Service, and  codes of conduct. The objective is to strengthen radiation safety framework in Member States and internationally.

The booklet IAEA Sealed Radioactive Sources offers additional information.

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