Monthly Archives: August 2017

How Do You Receive Radioactive Materials?

Hi, Dr. Zoomie – I’m working on a radioactive materials license application and it says I need to have a procedure for receiving radioactive materials. What are they looking for?

Virtually every radioactive materials license is going to require you to tell the regulators how you plan to receive radioactive materials at your facility – what precautions you plan to take, what checks you’re going to perform, and so forth. You might only receive radioactive materials once a month – maybe only once a year. Or, on the other hand, if you are at a nuclear pharmacy, a large hospital, or a large research university then you might be receiving multiple packages daily. However frequently you receive shipments, though, you’ve got to have a procedure to make sure it’s done correctly.

The easy way to do it is to commit to using the model procedure that your regulator has almost certainly developed. For example, one of my consulting clients (they had what’s called a broadscope radioactive materials license) had a line in their license application that simply stated “For receipt of radioactive materials we commit to using the model procedure found in Appendix I of NUREG 1556 vol. 11 (Consolidated Guidance About Licenses of Broad Scope).” And that’s all you really need. You can certainly draft your own receipt procedure, but if you do so then you have to be able to show that your procedure is at least as good as the model procedure.

There are a couple of things that have to be part of your procedure – whether you write your own or use the model procedure.

  • All radioactive packages should be delivered directly to the RSO if at all possible.
  • If the RSO is not available (vacation, illness, travel, restroom, etc.) then the package should be placed in a secure location until the RSO can retrieve it.
  • Alternately, the RSO may designate qualified radiation workers to receive radioactive packages in his/her absence.
  • Each package needs to be visually inspected for damage or evidence of leaking contents, surveyed for radiation dose rates (and possibly contamination), and the contents checked against the shipping papers. Most of these checks are required to be performed within three working hours of the package delivery.
  • All of these checks and surveys must be documented and you are required to maintain these records.
  • And if any contamination limits or radiation dose rates are excessive, you need to let the carrier and your regulators know as soon as possible.

With regards to the first point (delivery directly to the RSO), this is important. I worked in radiation safety at one university where a radioactive package was somehow lost between being signed for by University Receiving and delivery to Radiation Safety. In another, a man was ordering radioactive materials to be delivered to him personally, then sending them out to colleagues of his overseas. In both cases, the problems was solved by requiring all radioactive materials to be delivered only to Radiation Safety (and in the latter case, the man was arrested).

Finally, one last thing to consider….

If you regularly receive packages of radioactive materials you should consider having a dedicated location for this purpose. For example, perhaps you can take a corner of a workbench to cover with a benchpad (e.g. plastic-backed absorbent paper). In addition, you should have a secure storage location where the packages can be stored until you can perform the receipt inspection and surveys – and where you can store the materials until they’re moved to their permanent storage or use location.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Transporting Radioactive Materials

Dear Dr. Zoomie – can you give me some good “do” and “don’t” suggestions for transporting radioactive materials? I’m sorta new to all this.

Boy – there’s an open-ended question! And so many things to choose from…hard to know where to start. So let’s see what comes to mind.

  • DO take a minute to properly secure your radioactive materials, especially if they’re in the back of a pickup or open bed truck. A company I used to work for sort of forgot to do this and a nuclear soil density gauge bounced out of the back of the truck when it was driving from a job site. Took us two years to find it again.
  • DON’T let bandits hijack your truck, especially when it contains a dangerous amount of radioactivity. This happened in Mexico a few years ago and got international attention…and not the good sort that increases your sales. One way to help with this is to make sure you have GPS tracking on any vehicles carrying dangerous levels of radioactivity.
  • DO make sure your radiation instruments have been calibrated – especially the ones you’re using to determine the Transport Index (TI) and for other surveys (more on this in a later posting).
    • DO make sure you label the packages correctly (White I, Yellow II, Yellow III) according to the radiation level you measure
    • DO make sure you remember to measure radiation dose rates on the package, outside the truck, and in the driver’s area
Labels Used on Radioactive Materials Packages

Labels Used on Radioactive Materials Packages

  • DON’T re-use Type A packages unless they are:
    • Designed to be reusable or
    • You’ve tested them and can document that they meet the criteria to be a Type A package
  • DON’T park a truck or car with radioactive materials in a sketchy place and leave it unattended – even if it is locked. Unlike a past consulting client whose driver left his locked car in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District (high drug use). The car was broken into, the radioactive materials (medicine intended to be used the next day) were stolen and were probably ingested by the thief, hoping to get high.
    • As an aside – when a cop asks you how he can tell if a drug addict has ingested radioactive iodine (which will destroy the thyroid), DON’T tell him to look for someone who looks lethargic since he will probably tell you the same thing he told me; “In this part of town, everyone looks lethargic. Got anything else?”
  • DO make sure that you and anyone else shipping or transporting radioactive materials have received proper training within the last three years.
  • DO make sure that your radioactive materials are blocked and braced so they can’t shift around in the vehicle when it starts, stops, turns corners, hits bumps, and so forth.
  • DO make sure you lock everything up so nobody can walk away with your radioactive source(s) or the equipment they’re inside
  • DO make sure you contract with a reputable company anytime you ship radioactive materials!
  • DON’T do this (please, please, please):
Punctured package containing radioactive material

Punctured package containing radioactive material

  • DO remember to fill out shipping papers and/or manifest – even when it’s your vehicle transporting your sources to a remote job site
    • And while you’re at it…DO remember to fill out the radioactivity in SI units (1 Ci = 37 GBq, 1 µCi = 37 kBq, etc.)
    • And DO remember to store the shipping papers in the door pocket, on the passenger’s seat, or another place in the driver’s compartment where responders can find them easily in case of an accident