WINS organised a one-day session (07 March 2018) on Alternative Technologies to High Activity Radioactive Sources during the 6th Regional Review Meeting on Radiological Security that was conducted from 06 to 09 March 2018 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Meeting, which was co-hosted by Sri Lanka's Atomic Energy Regulatory Council and the US Department of Energy Office of Radiological Security, was by invitation only.
Radioactive sources are used daily in medical, industrial, agricultural and research applications around the world. If these sources should be lost or stolen and fall into the wrong hands, they could cause bodily harm, significant social disruption, environmental damage, and anxiety in the community. Such results would be damaging to the reputation and credibility of any organisation involved.
Of particular concern are Category 1 and 2 sources, which the IAEA defines as extremely dangerous and very dangerous. Although adequate security measures will significantly reduce the risks posed by high activity radioactive sources, replacing them altogether with a different, but equivalent, technology (X-rays, electron beams, ethylene oxide sterilization, etc.), the so-called Alternative Technologies, would permanently reduce the risk. Ongoing research, advancements in new technology, and improvements in existing technologies have made many alternatives to radioactive sources attractive and cost effective. However, more work is needed before certain applications can be replaced successfully with an alternative.
The movement to adopt alternative technologies is growing in some countries, as well as for some practices. This has been encouraged, at least in part, by the potential risks and liabilities posed by radioactive material. In other cases, complacency and the lack of incentives and viable alternatives have limited the movement to non-isotopic replacements.
When it comes to developing and promoting alternative technologies, many different stakeholders play an important role. Coordinated efforts at the international level and the engagement of all stakeholders is a prerequisite to an effective and sustainable movement towards alternative technologies. End users of radioactive sources are the key decision makers in this effort because they are generally the best qualified to assess the viability of replacing their current radioactive sources with an alternative. Regulators also play a major role because they can provide end users with information on such technologies and explain how others have benefitted from adopting them. Regulators may also implement policies to facilitate the adoption of alternative technologies; for example, they could create disincentives for the continued use of sealed sources. In addition, device manufacturers play a central role in the development of radionuclide-based devices and alternative technologies because they are continuously upgrading existing products and developing new ones. The move to adopt alternative technologies also requires a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of other important stakeholders, such as government agencies and professional associations.
One of the main objectives of the day was to discuss the advantages and limitations of alternative technologies to radioactive sources. This helped participants understand—and better prepare for—some of the challenges they could face when replacing their sources or purchasing a new equipment not using radioactive sources. Participants had the opportunity to listen to and talk with alternative technology vendors, as well as with end-users and regulators who will share their experiences using or regulating the use of these technologies. Participants also reviewed the key questions to ask to assess if purchasing a new equipment or replacing the sources currently in use with alternatives is equally effective, less burdensome and has comparable costs. Specifically, participants :
- Reviewed and shared information on the availability of alternative technologies for applications using high activity sealed radioactive sources.
- Addressed the status of implementing alternative technologies in various regions of the world – in particular in the participating countries – and to share the experience of manufacturers and end users in developing and using alternative technologies.
- Encouraged and facilitated dialogue between those who have experience in using alternative technologies and those who are considering converting to alternative technologies.
- Identified the barriers to conversion and understand the dynamics of successful transition.
- Discussed good practices for managing the volume of disused radioactive sources that result from the adoption of alternative technologies.
- Identified sources of reliable information on the topic.