Regulation of radioactive sources maintained, IAEA finds

12 June 2020

A recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) survey of regulatory bodies in over 90 countries found that national regulators are using innovative methods to ensure the safety of radiation sources is not compromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such sources are used mainly in medicine, industry and research.

Regulatory inspection of radiation sources in the field (Image: D Calma / IAEA)

The IAEA said the main objective of the survey was to gain an overview of the effect of restrictions on regulatory activities on the safety of radiation sources and of the response of the regulatory bodies. Secondly, the survey aimed to understand Member States' needs in the COVID-19 pandemic situation and its impact on the IAEA Safety Standards. The third objective was to collect notable practices and lessons learned, where applicable.

More than half of the Member States' regulatory bodies reported certain radiation facilities as locked down and the ceasing of activities with radiation sources. However, continual functions of facilities that are part of the critical national infrastructure were reported by almost all regulatory bodies, such as medical facilities and certain industrial facilities. Countries have continued production of radiopharmaceuticals, management of disused sources, research activities, technical services (dosimetry, monitoring, calibration), security checks and transport of radioactive material. In some Member States, the use of radiation sources for veterinary, educational and dental purposes and use of gauges has not been suspended.

The survey showed that a number of countries are concerned potential safety risks might arise from the prolonged impact of the disease, on financial and human resources for regulatory activities, logistics, and other radiation safety infrastructure elements.

"The IAEA developed the survey to proactively assess how regulatory systems have withstood the effects of the pandemic. What was reported was a forced reduction of direct regulatory oversight, but also notable practices from regulatory bodies to continue performing their responsibilities," said Ronald Pacheco Jimenez, head of the IAEA Control of Radiation Sources Unit. "Countries reported that the economic downturn forecast and the strain on healthcare may impact on the safety of radiation sources, but necessary actions are being implemented to ensure that measures are in place and guidelines are followed to ensure the safe and secure use of these sources."

Countries informed the IAEA that in response to the coronavirus pandemic they are adapting approaches to the regulation of the safe use of radiation sources. In several countries, special authorisation procedures have been implemented for diagnostic equipment used to combat COVID-19. Many countries reported that physical inspections could not be carried out and have been replaced by remote oversight through review of documentation and virtual communication.

More than half of the responses from the regulatory bodies include recommendations for the development and improvement of IAEA documents on safety, based on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Proposals on how IAEA Safety Standards could be strengthened have been suggested.

The IAEA will use the information gathered to analyse how the issues identified during this pandemic can be used as a basis to update IAEA safety guidance for future pandemics.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News