Radioactive Sources Experts Gather to Discuss Safety and Security

“Radioactive sources are all around us, offering immense societal and economic benefits, but they may also pose a risk. Managing these sources well, protects us from accidental radiation exposure and keeps them away from people with malicious intent,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the opening of the International Conference on Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources – Accomplishments and Future Endeavours. Through a video message, the Director General welcomed over 600 participants to the five-day gathering, the first of its kind to be held since 2013. You can still register to attend the conference virtually as an observer.

Today, radioactive sources are used in many areas including energy, medicine, industry, food and agriculture, research, and in environmental monitoring and protection. The IAEA supports countries in managing radioactive sources through the IAEA Safety Standards, the IAEA Nuclear Security Series and through the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources – a non-legally binding international instrument issued by the IAEA that provides the international requirements and recommendations to support countries in establishing and strengthening the national regulatory infrastructure. This includes advice on the management and protection of radioactive sources and on the development, harmonization and implementation of national policies, laws and regulations, as well as on cooperation among countries.

“As more people gain access to the huge benefits of radioactive sources, the work you and we are doing becomes even more important,” Mr Grossi told conference participants. Mr Grossi said that 141 countries have so far expressed political commitment to the Code of Conduct, making it the primary international instrument defining the principles for safety and security of radioactive sources.

During the conference, taking place from 20 to 24 June, participants will explore six main topics: safety and security matters of radioactive sources throughout their lifecycle; collaboration among national stakeholders; regulatory control of radioactive sources; sustainability and effectiveness of national infrastructures, including lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic; international cooperation; and preparation and response to radiological incidents and emergencies involving radioactive sources.

While globalisation may present challenges to safety and security matters, it is also an opportunity for close cooperation. Indeed, international co-operation is a key requirement in ensuring the safety and security of radioactive sources at a high level and it is in the spirit of that international co-operation that we are gathered here in Vienna.

Building capacity for radioactive source management

Following the Director General’s address, the conference’s two Co-Presidents welcomed attendees. Nathalie Semblat, Deputy Director and Senior Program Manager for Nuclear and Radiological Security, Weapons Threat Reduction Program, at Global Affairs Canada – the country’s ministry for foreign affairs – echoed Mr Grossi’s praise for the Code of Conduct and drew attention to growing international support to other guidance documents, including the Supplementary Guidance on the Import-Export of Radioactive Sources and the Supplementary Guidance on the Management of Disused Radioactive Sources.

The guidance documents describe options for the management and protection of disused radioactive sources and outline the responsibilities of parties, including operators and regulatory bodies. They emphasize disposal as the final management option for disused sources; encourage countries to implement national policies and strategies to manage disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRSs) in a safe, secure and sustainable manner; advise on cases of returning sources to their country of origin; and on reusing and recycling DSRSs.

“The IAEA continues to assist us all in ensuring that our radioactive sources are both safe and secure. An increasing number of countries have availed themselves of peer review and advisory services provided by the IAEA,” Ms Semblat said, explaining that peer reviews have been particularly helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of national infrastructures for the safety and security of radioactive sources.

Ms Semblat spoke about IAEA capacity-building projects, such as the IAEA Regulatory Infrastructure Development Project (RIDP), which is establishing and enhancing national regulatory infrastructure for radiation safety and security of radioactive material in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean; and a large-scale project for enhancing the safe, secure and sustainable management of DSRSs, which is offering technical assistance to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific and Africa.

Ensuring benefits

The conference’s other Co-President, Luis Huerta Torchio, Executive Director, Head of the Division of Nuclear Research and Applications at the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission also addressed attendees: “While globalisation may present challenges to safety and security matters, it is also an opportunity for close cooperation. Indeed, international co-operation is a key requirement in ensuring the safety and security of radioactive sources at a high level and it is in the spirit of that international co-operation that we are gathered here in Vienna.”

Mr Huerta said that it is of the utmost importance that the conference examines the impact of technological advances in nuclear science and technology on the safety and security of radioactive sources, emphasizing that, “the benefits of the use of radioactive sources, wherever they are used on the planet, must be ensured against any risk to people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.”

“Nuclear science and technology are continuously expanding their applications to new domains,” Mr Huerta highlighted. “The safe and secure operation of these advanced technologies is an issue of continuous study.”

Mr Huerta emphasized the importance of nuclear safety and security in the management of radioactive sources throughout their entire lifecycle. He described how in 2019, the IAEA launched a multi-regional project on the sustainable management of disused sealed radioactive sources – a project in which Chile is participating. “For Chile, participation in this project is the best way to improve the management of radioactive sources storage,” he said.

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