Published On: Sun, May 25th, 2014

Of radioactive materials: Safety and security concerns

Kanchan Adhikari, Radiologist

Of radioactive materials: Safety and security concerns

Now is the time for the establishment of a radiation regulatory board or commission for developing and monitoring of essential nuclear safety‚ security and radiation control infrastructure in the country.

A recent news report on the disappearance of radioactive Iradium-192 disused source en route to Kathmandu for safety disposal to the country of origin, Belgium, has raised a big question on safety and security of radioactive sources used for medical purposes in Nepal. That radioactive Iridium source was used in High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is commonly used as an effective treatment for cervical, breast, skin and prostate cancer and can also be used to treat tumors in many other body areas.

Radiation and radioactive substances have many beneficial applications, ranging from power generation to uses in medicine, industry and agriculture. But it is just as important that the radiation risks to workers, general public and the environment that arise from these applications are properly assessed and controlled. Activities such as the medical uses of radiation, the operation of nuclear installations, the production, transport and use of radioactive materials, and the management of radioactive wastes must therefore be subject to standards of safety. But safety standards are effective only if they are properly applied in practice. Hence, regulating nuclear and radiation safety is our national responsibility.

Radioactive materials and radiation in Nepal are mainly used in the medical field. Small quantities of radioactive sources are also used in research and education in various institutions. It has also been used in calibration of some equipment at research centers and in the fields of mining, food and drug administration. But there is no legislative body or regulatory authority to set standards for radiation used in medical and other fields. Authentic records of the number of the radiological facilities in operation are conspicuous by their absence. Eye popping development has taken place in the field of diagnostic radiology, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine. Latest radiological equipment has been acquired by various hospitals that have had a positive impact on general health service but the lack of control can cause serious problems.

Safety and security of radioactive materials in Nepal is concerned with the current status of radioactive materials as where as it is. International Atomic Energy Agency has categorized radioactive materials in 5 different categories. Category 1: Extremely Dangerous, Category 2: Very dangerous, Category 3: Being dangerous, Category 4: Unlikely to be dangerous, Category 5: Most unlikely to be dangerous. The Iridium-192 which was lost for several days and later found intact was IAEA category 2 source which means very dangerous. Losing a source is extremely serious and can also contribute to threats of terrorists in the rest of the world. In Nepal, we are using category 1 and category 2 sources in the medical field. IAEA category 1 source Cobalt-60 is being used at three different radiotherapy centers in Nepal for the treatment of cancer. Iridium-192 is also being used at 4 different cancer centers in Nepal. The achievement and maintenance of a high level of safety in the use of radiation sources and in the management of radioactive waste depends on a sound legal and governmental infrastructure, including a regulatory body with well-defined responsibilities and functions. An appropriately organized and staffed regulatory body with access to adequate resources is a key element of such an infrastructure. There is a great need to have an effective national legislative and regulatory infrastructure in place to govern the security of radioactive sources, which prescribes and assigns governmental responsibilities to relevant bodies to establish, implement, and maintain a regime that ensures the security of radioactive sources. The objective of the security is to provide guide in implementing, maintaining or enhancing a nuclear security regime to protect radioactive material while in transport against theft, sabotage or other malicious acts that could have unacceptable radiological consequences. Right now, security system has been installed to protect all category 1 radioactive sources being used in Nepal with the help of United States, Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program. Recently, GTRI has also started installing security system for HDR Brachytherapy means to protect Ir-192 to reduce the likelihood of the attempt of malicious acts and provides for measures that mitigate the consequences of malicious acts involving radioactive sources.

Nepal is a member state of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 8th July, 2008, nuclear watchdog of the United Nations and this will certainly support and speed up the creation of appropriate conditions. And the Ministry of Science Technology and Environment is the line agency responsible for official contact with the IAEA. Now is the time for the establishment of a radiation regulatory board or commission for developing and monitoring of essential nuclear safety, security and radiation control infrastructure in the country. The most essential introduction of Radiation Act is long overdue, to mention its subsequent enforcement for providing licenses, establishment of other concomitant radiation rules and regulations, quality assurance and radiation protection program etc. Adhikari is a senior medical physicist at NAMS, Bir Hospital

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>