The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 19 September announced an initiative to establish qualified technical centres for the long-term management of disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS) most of which result from nuclear applications in medical, industrial and agricultural facilities. Once they have been used, they must be recovered, dismantled, stored and, when necessary, prepared for transportation.

IAEA's safety standards provide the international requirements to control disused sources and help member states implement technologies to recover, condition and store them. an update on a “qualified technical centres” approach for the long-term management of DSRS was presented at a side event during the IAEA's 61st General Conference. “The idea behind this initiative is to increase the worldwide capability to manage DSRS by encouraging countries with well-equipped centres and trained personnel to provide technical services for the management of DSRS, within their countries and regionally," said Christophe Xerri, director of the IAEA's division of nuclear fuel cycle and waste technology. "At the IAEA we receive a large number of requests for assistance in characterisation, conditioning and removal of all categories of DSRS.”

The process for defining the technical and human resources requirements necessary to qualify as these centres of reference is ongoing. The IAEA regularly dispatches expert missions to member states to provide advice and guidance for the recovery and conditioning of DSRS. The most recent missions include recovery and conditioning of DSRS in Honduras in July, in Ghana in August and in Malaysia in September 2017. These missions complement IAEA’s capacity building activities, such as projects for managing radioactive sources from cradle to grave, implemented through the Agency’s technical cooperation programme.

The meeting heard details of a South American Source Removal Project, with 29 sources to be removed from five countries as well as presentations on national regulatory infrastructure for inventories of radioactive sources, and progress made on the integration of a mobile hot cell with borehole disposal system. “The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) has provided experienced technical support to the IAEA over many years with several mobile hot cell and other source recovery missions,” said Cheryl Akortia, Acting Senior Manager of the company. “South Africa is committed to continue this collaborative work on new projects.”

Photo: Participants at the 61st IAEA General Conference trying their skills in safe handling of disused sealed radioactive sources (with mock objects). (Photo: A. Evrensel/IAEA)