Despite restrictions in place due to the global pandemic, several disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRSs) were successfully brought to a safer and more secure storage facility in Colombia over the last few weeks with support from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The sources had been used in cancer treatment but have reached the end of their useful life. Their transfer represents a major milestone in an ongoing project to increase the security of disused sources in the country.
“Disused sealed radioactive sources can remain radioactive for a long time and present both security and safety challenges,” said Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security. “Appropriate management of these sources helps protect against accidental radiation exposure and intentional use for malicious purposes.”
Sealed radioactive sources are used all over the world for many beneficial purposes in areas such as healthcare, industry, research and agriculture. These sources are usually managed safely and securely while in use. It is equally important to manage these sources once they reach the end of their useful lives and become disused. The safe, secure and sustainable long-term management of DSRSs is essential to reduce radiation hazards to the public and the environment.
As part of the implementation of Colombia’s national action plan to secure all radioactive material in use and storage, within the framework of its Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plan (INSSP), the implementation of the project began in 2014. It was designed to support the dismantling and consolidation of all twenty high-activity DSRSs from various facilities within the country, and their transportation to a safe and secure storage facility for further management.
Performing complex field operations, such as the transfer of radioactive sources at the end of their life cycle — when they are especially vulnerable — to a safe and secure storage facility requires highly specialized expertise and poses technical challenges during normal times. This is further complicated by health and safety measures in place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure adherence to the national pandemic restrictions, plans had to be adjusted: for instance, a biosafety protocol regulating sanitary cleaning and disinfection and social distancing were introduced and adhered to.
“Operations were finalized with the highest standards of radiological safety and security, but also with unprecedented biosecurity measures due the current Covid-19 national health emergency,” said Miguel Lotero Robledo, Colombia’s Vice Minister of Energy. “The dedication of all national stakeholders, such as our ministry, the National Police of Colombia and the Colombian Geological Service, demonstrates our country’s undeniable commitment towards enhancing nuclear safety and security.”
The project was supported by the Canadian government through its contribution to IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund.
The IAEA is supporting over twenty countries, at their request, to improve the security and safety of national inventories of DSRSs through large scale field operations and complementary capacity building for enhanced sustainability.
In February, the IAEA plans to hold an international conference on strengthening nuclear safety and security. High level safety experts will discuss the implementations of the IAEA’s Action Plan on Nuclear Safety and the role of formal international undertakings such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Participants will also address initiatives to further strengthen regulatory oversight, accident management, human and organizational factors, radiation safety systems, radiation monitoring, post-accident recovery and enhancing international efforts and cooperation as well as providing clear and understandable messages to the general public and stakeholders.