20 Years of Guiding Safety, Security in Radioactive Source Trade

Tens of thousands of sealed radioactive sources consignments are shipped around the world every year for use in industry, medicine, research, agriculture and education. This week, regulators and industry experts convened in Vienna to discuss the safe and secure import and export of radioactive sources.

Radioactive sources are used in industry to sterilize and disinfect medical equipment, to inspect gas and water pipelines for cracks and flaws, to make food safe to eat and in environmental applications to assess contamination in earth, water and air, as well as other areas. They are also integral to the IAEA's efforts to address global disparities in access to radiation medicine to diagnose and treat cancer through the flagship Rays of Hope initiative, as well as the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).

Since the establishment of the Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources in 2004, countries have been focusing on bringing greater consistency to national programmes for the safe and secure movement of radioactive sources; robust regulatory infrastructure; effective global cooperation; and communication and enhanced national and transnational border control.

"These radioactive sources are imported and exported daily, and the maintenance of a high level of safety and security is essential as these radioactive sources may pose a risk due to accidental radiation exposure, inappropriate use or malicious intent," said Lydie Evrard, Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, at the opening of the meeting.

The event marks the 20th anniversary of the IAEA's Board of Governors approval of the Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources, which assists countries in establishing a globally harmonized control regime, including maintaining regulatory oversight throughout the import­-export process between countries. It supplements the IAEA's Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.

"The guidance has been instrumental for many Member States, including Mauritius, in establishing a harmonized regulatory process for maintaining safety of radioactive sources during the import and export of radioactive sources," said meeting Co-Chair Faradilly Ollite, Director of the Radiation Safety and Nuclear Security Authority (RSNSA), Mauritius.

Around 220 participants from 120 countries and two international organizations discussed key areas related to the guidance provided by the IAEA on the safe and secure import and export of radioactive material. The meeting included presentations from national regulators and industry professionals, interactive activities, and panel discussions.

"While global challenges remain in the consistent implementation of relevant provisions, the guidance has provided a robust framework for the transfer of sealed radioactive sources, for example by increasing the regulatory oversight of source movements, which further enhances radioactive source safety and security," said Richard Wassenaar, meeting participant and Secretary of the International Source Suppliers and Producers Association.

Participants also received a demonstration on the IAEA Regulatory Authority Information System (RAIS+), launched at last year's 67th IAEA General Conference. RAIS+ is a customizable software tool that helps countries perform their core regulatory functions related to the safety and security of radiation sources and assists in the establishment and maintenance of a national register of radiation sources and other safety and security related records. The demonstration included a preview of a new draft regulatory process in RAIS+ that can facilitate digital licensing of sources between importing and exporting countries, aligned with the provisions of the code and the guidance.

Guidance: key numbers

To date, 137 Member States have expressed their political commitment to the Guidance on Import and Export, most recently the Netherlands, while the Code of Conduct has received political commitment from 151 countries. A further 153 countries have designated State contact points.

"The commitment from Member States is significant, but our work needs to continue to gain broader political commitment by States to the Code of Conduct and supplementary Guidance," said Evrard.

At the meeting, participants addressed topics such as the role of import and export arrangements, shared priorities and challenges in implementing the guidance, evaluation of applications for import and export authorization, as well as consent, notification and forms to facilitate communication.

Meeting Co-Chair Gillian Hirth, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, said: "It is important for Member States and the IAEA to continue to share lessons learned, good practices and solve challenges together, as it enables more countries to access peaceful uses of nuclear and radiological technologies in a sustainable, safe and secure manner, and assists all to achieve national, regional and global development goals."

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