Thailand hosts inaugural mission of IAEA service for disused sealed radioactive sources

16 August 2023

Sealed radioactive sources are the key component in thousands of devices used worldwide in industry, medicine and agriculture. Sustainable management of these sources at the end of their working life is challenging. However, the IAEA has launched a new service – Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources Technical Centre peer review service (DSRS TeC) – to support countries in this task.

This new service aims to enlarge the global pool of resources and support for countries in the sustainable management of DSRS. "Practical hands-on demonstrations of the DSRS management operations are a main component of the new mission, which also includes a review of procedures and work instructions, facilities, tools and equipment,” said Nora Zakaria, Head of the IAEA’s Waste Technology Section.

The inaugural DSRS-TeC mission, supported by funds from the United States of America, took place in Bangkok at the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (TINT). “I found the mission’s unique approach beneficial to strengthening the practice of DSRS management,” said TINT manager Nikom Prasertchiewchan. “Although TINT has established quality management systems, the peer review mission brings added value by looking into the details of the technical proficiencies, operations and, in particular, the conditioning of sources,” Preparation of DSRS packages for domestic transport of sources, characterisation of devices, and dismantling and conditioning of sources were addressed during the review.

There are thousands of different models of gauges, devices and machines containing radioactive sources, and sometimes the information for a device or source is missing. “Documentation, like device description or a source certificate, can get lost after years or even decades of use,” said Juan Carlos Benitez Navarro, Senior Technical Expert (DSRS) at the IAEA. “Experienced operators handling DSRS can identify and handle unknown sources and devices.” If a device is damaged or corroded, there also may be a risk of contamination. Experts need to have a deep knowledge of DSRS, as well as experience working with radioactive sources, to be able to remove, characterise and correctly package them.

TINT built a dedicated DSRS storage facility in 2013, which operates under a strict quality management system. In 2020, TINT redesigned its inventory system. Following the peer review, the team concluded that TINT’s system is comprehensive, providing source details and allowing full tracking of a source’s origin, condition and location in the facility.

“TINT has reached an impressive level of accomplishment, and its capacities and capabilities continue to expand,” said Zakaria, who served as the IAEA’s lead on the mission. “TINT has absorbed the know-how and the experience of the various technical assistance missions rendered by the IAEA and greatly improved the management of DSRS. These impressive achievements should chart the way forward for collaboration. It’s a great start to this new service.”

The DSRS TeC review team in Bangkok comprised four experts from Philippines and Serbia, and two IAEA staff members. Under IAEA expert leadership, DSRS TeC encourages organisations with well-equipped facilities and personnel to sign up to provide DSRS technical expertise, as well as organisations wishing to strengthen existing capacity. “The overall aim of DSRS TeC is to strengthen DSRS management practices and form sustainable support in the long run,” Zakaria said.

Morocco’s National Centre for Energy and Nuclear Science and Technology (CNESTEN) hosted a pilot DSRS TeC mission in May 2022, and the IAEA officially launched the peer review service during the 66th IAEA General Conference in September 2022.

Image: The inaugural DSRS TeC mission took place in Bangkok at the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (courtesy of TINT)

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