What is a radioactive source, and what is it for?
Throughout the world radioactive sources are used in medicine, industry, agriculture, research and teaching; they are also used in some military applications. Many of them consist in sealed sources with their radioactive materials firmly confined or aggregated inside an appropriate capsule or protective box.
These sealed radioactive sources, widely used in industry, medicine and research
Radioactive sources are controlled and registered
A sealed radioactive source contains radioactive substances, and has been built in such a way that these substances cannot escape under normal use circumstances, which excludes all possibility of contamination. These sealed radioactive sources, widely used in industry, medicine and research, are usually characterized by their small size and mobility.
The risks that these sources represent vary enormously, depending on factors such as the radionuclides used, the physical and chemical form and the activity.
Sealed sources, with the exception of those that are broken or have leakages, only offer a risk of exposition to external radiations. However, broken or leaky sealed sources, just as non-sealed radioactive materials, may cause environmental contamination and the ingestion of radioactive materials into the human organism.
The basic international safety norms for protection against ionizing radiation and for the safety of radiation sources constitute a nationally harmonized basis for ensuring the use of ionizing radiation sources under safe physical and technological conditions. The safety requisites for the legal and national infrastructure for safety regarding nuclear energy, radiological applications and radioactive waste and their transport establish the essential elements of a regulatory control system.
In this context, the Euratom Treaty (title II, chapter 3) establishes measures to protect the safety of workers and the population against the dangers of ionizing radiations. Thus, there are basic community norms in this respect (96/29/Euratom Directive) with dispositions that are applicable to high-activity sealed radioactive sources. In Spain there is the Royal Decree 229/2006 from February 24th on the control of encapsulated high-activity radioactive sources and orphan sources.
To avoid losing radioactive sources, all sources must have a unique number
These radioactive sources may be abandoned, lost, displace or removed without authorization (in which case they are called “orphaned sources”). These uncontrolled or orphaned sources could be discovered by people that are not conscious of the risks they present.
Orphaned radioactive sources are those that appear outside the established regulatory control system as a consequence mainly of activities from the past, and whose search and recuperation has been promoted through a specific campaign ordered by authorities.
To avoid losing radioactive sources, all sources must have a unique number. They must be marked and labelled with an appropriate sign to warn off against radioactive danger.
The owner will ensue that every elevated activity source has attached written information indicating that the source has been identified and marked. This information will include photographs of the source, of its container, of the transport packing, and of the device and equipment wherever necessary.