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Radiation Safety of Sealed Radioactive Sources

Pryor, Kathryn H.*

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000225
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Sealed radioactive sources are used in a wide variety of occupational settings and under differing regulatory/licensing structures. The definition of a sealed radioactive source varies between U.S. regulatory authorities and standard-setting organizations. Potential problems with sealed sources cover a range of risks and impacts. The loss of control of high activity sealed sources can result in very high or even fatal doses to members of the public who come in contact with them. Sources that are not adequately sealed and that fail can cause spread of contamination and potential intake of radioactive material. There is also the possibility that sealed sources may be (or threaten to be) used for terrorist purposes and disruptive opportunities. Until fairly recently, generally licensed sealed sources and devices received little, if any, regulatory oversight and were often forgotten, lost or unaccounted for. Nonetheless, generally licensed devices can contain fairly significant quantities of radioactive material, and there is some potential for exposure if a device is treated in a way for which it was never designed. Industrial radiographers use and handle high activity and/or high dose-rate sealed sources in the field with a high degree of independence and minimal regulatory oversight. Failure to follow operational procedures and properly handle radiography sources can and has resulted in serious injuries and death. Industrial radiographers have experienced a disproportionately large fraction of incidents that have resulted in unintended exposure to radiation. Sources do not have to contain significant quantities of radioactive material to cause problems in the event of their failure. A loss of integrity can cause the spread of contamination and potential exposure to workers and members of the public. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements has previously provided recommendations on select aspects of sealed source programs. Future efforts to provide recommendations for sealed source programs are discussed.

*Chief Health Physicist, Radiation Protection Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, P.O. Box 999, MSIN J2‐40, 902 Battelle Boulevard, Richland, WA 99352.

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

For correspondence contact the author at the above address, or email at kathy.pryor@pnnl.gov.

(Manuscript accepted 2 October 2014)

© 2015 by the Health Physics Society