Ionizing radiation accompanies all living beings since the earliest microorganisms appeared on the Earth. 80% of radiation is caused by natural sources, radionuclides in the soil, construction materials, air and water. At average, exposure doses due to radiation from soil range from 0.3 to 0.6 mSv/year. The main radioactive isotopes present in Earth rocks include Potassium-40, Rubidium-87 and members of two decay chains that originate from Uranium-238 and Thorium-232. These are the most stable isotopes that are the part of the Earth since its formation.
Natural radiation also involves economic activity of people: use of extractable resources, in particular, coal. After combustion, radionuclides are concentrated in dust that enters the air even after treatment in purification systems.
In addition to radiation sources of natural origin, there are also artificial radiation sources associated with the use of nuclear technologies in medicine, industry, and power engineering. Individual radiation doses received from anthropogenic sources during their competent and conscious use are generally not high. However, non-controlled distribution of instruments and devices containing radioactive elements or ionizing radiation sources may cause both serious problems with population health and contaminate large areas.
To date, there are many industrial facilities in Ukraine that used and use radioactive sources in industrial production and researches without having the financial capacity to provide an adequate control level. Bankrupt companies do not have funds to pay special fee for the IRS storage.
In 2006, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the State Program for the Safe Storage of Spent High-Level Sources of Ionizing Radiation (Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 1092 of 3 August 2006) to assist such companies. The first program phase was the collection of spent highly-hazardous IRS. It was carried out involving the international technical assistance. Donor countries comprised: Great Britain, Germany, France, USA, etc.
During 2009-2015, two large-scale projects on the spent IRS retrieval were implemented at bankrupt companies in Ukraine with financial assistance form the U.S. government. Within framework of the projects, IRS were withdrawn from irradiation plants, reloaded into corresponding containers; their tightness was checked, sources were identified; containers were transported to specialized RAW handling facilities.
According to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, about 15 000 of spent IRS with a total activity of 1.27 PBq were collected in different regions of Ukraine and transferred to specialized RAW handling facilities as a result of the project implementation during seven years.
But nobody knows how many low and intermediate level IRS are still outside the specialized sites for RW storage and handling. To continue detection of hazardous items, the Amnesty Program of Orphaned Ionizing Radiation Sources (hereinafter referred to as the Program) was started with the support from the U.S. Government.
This Program is being implemented on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement between Ukraine and the United States of America and the agreement between the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine and the United States Department of Defense.
The Amnesty program of orphaned ionizing radiation sources will help the Government of Ukraine to reduce the number of sealed sources by providing support for their return. Besides, the Program shall deny the assertion about existing demand for illegal radioactive materials.
The Program implementation becomes possible due to changes in the Criminal Code of Ukraine. On 4 October 2016, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On amending article 265 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine concerning the voluntary surrender of radioactive materials” (No. 1638-VIII of 4 October 2016), which exempts the voluntary surrender of radioactive materials from criminal liability. The purpose of this adoption is to establish the legal basis for exempting from criminal liability the persons who voluntarily informed the authorities about radioactive materials (ionizing radiation sources, radioactive substances or materials in any physical state, in any plant, product or in any other form).
Adoption of these amendments to the Criminal Code of Ukraine considerably simplified the surrender procedure for ionizing radiation sources, their registration, inspection and entry into the state accounting system, transfer to controlled storage. However, even after adoption of these amendments, there was no significant increase in the amount of IRS handed over by people. The reason is the lack of deliberate target-oriented public outreach campaign in regions.
“STEP to safety” public outreach campaign
The public outreach campaign on radiation awareness and control “STEP to safety” (hereinafter the “Campaign”) in the Dnipropetrovsk Region starts due to the support of the U.S. Department of State and Oak Ridge National Laboratory(USA). This region was selected taking into account special historical features, since many uranium-mining and uranium-processing facilities operated here.
The Campaign objective is to increase the information awareness of the population concerning the risk of possession and storage of ionizing radiation sources, which will also improve the life and health safety and decrease the threat of nuclear terrorism.
General tasks of the Campaign are:
- Increasing the radiation safety level for the population and the environment.
- Formation of proper behaviour and pro-active attitude of the public towards the use of IRS.
- Providing the community with information on the conditions for exemption from criminal liability in case of the voluntary IRS surrender (Article 265 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).
- Preparation of informational resources for improving the population awareness about possession of IRS.
Non-Governmental Organization “Chornobyl Research and Development Institute” is responsible for the implementation of the pilot project in the Dnipropetrovsk Region of Ukraine.
Ionizing radiation sources and their classification
Ionizing radiation source (IRS)is an item or a device containing radioactive material or an instrument that emits radiation or is capable to serve as an ionizing radiation source under certain conditions.
Man-made (anthropogenic) ionizing radiation sources (IRS)are various technical devices and complexes, which embody modern advances in nuclear technologies.
A radioactive source means any amount of radioactive material required to produce ionizing radiation (IR). IR sources are divided into gauging, control and industrial ones.
Industrial IRS is a unit for exposing various materials to ionizing radiation using a high-activity source.
Ionization radiation sources may be external and internal. External sources are beyond the object of exposure. They are X-ray devices, radioactive isotope formulations, particle accelerators, reactors, etc. The internal sources, for example, are radioactive substances that enter a human body and remain in it for radiotherapy or diagnosis purposes.
A leak-proof IRS means a radioactive radiation source in a sealed container or shell, which shall be strong enough to exclude the contact of the staff with radioactive material or its dissipation under operating conditions or wear during the entire operating life.
Also, open and sealed ionizing radiation sources are distinguished.
Open IRS is a radionuclide radiation source, which content may enter the environment during the use of the source. Examples include heavy water in the nuclear reactor cooling pond, water or materials, machinery, equipment contaminated during technological operation or due to a nuclear power plant accident.
Sealed IRS is a radionuclide radiation source, where radioactive material is contained in a shell (a tube or protective coating), which makes impossible for the personnel to contact the radioactive material, and its ingress into the environment above the permissible levels under operating and wear conditions for the design life.
Sealed IRS are widely used in science and technology as IR sources, energy sources (heat or electricity), air ionizers. Radiation sources are used at shipyards, in medicine (X- and γ-ray devices, charged particle accelerators) in NDT equipment, in chemical and building industries, metallurgy, consumer good industry, geology, agriculture and scientific experiments.
The “STEP to safety” public outreach campaign covers just sealed sourcesthat can be identified by the radiation hazard sign on the protective cover or shell.