Hidden danger: GRS and European Commission help Mongolia find radioactive sources

Orphaned radioactive sources are regularly found worldwide. These are, for example, test and measurement sources from industry and mining that have been improperly disposed of or lost, or calibration or irradiation equipment from research and medicine.

Highly radioactive radiation sources in particular can pose a considerable risk in the event of improper handling or deliberate misuse. In Germany and Europe, the use of radioactive sources is therefore subject to state supervision and requires a licence. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection documents all highly radioactive sources in the register of highly radioactive radiation sources (HRQ register) in order to enable the supervisory and investigative authorities to have complete control. Nevertheless, the loss or discovery of an abandoned radiation source cannot be completely ruled out. The Federal Environment Ministry documents such cases in its annual report on "Environmental Radioactivity and Radiation Exposure".

Knowledge transfer: GRS trains Mongolian authority

Orphaned radiation sources are also a cause for concern in the Central Asian landlocked state of Mongolia. Orphaned radioactive sources can be found again and again at old industrial sites and scrap yards - e.g. in the form of test emitters, radiography equipment, borehole scanners or level indicators.

GRS currently supports Mongolian authorities and organisations in searching for and recovering unknown radioactive sources. Previous owners of these sources have not always reported their use to the competent authorities in the past.

The project is one of the activities of the European Commission’s "Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation" (INSC). The European Commission is committed to improving nuclear safety standards in emerging and developing countries through its assistance programme. It is financing the two-year project with €1.1m. GRS contributes its international experience in searching, locating, classifying, securing and transporting radioactive sources to the project. GRS regularly supports foreign authorities and technical safety organisations (TSO) with know-how transfer.

Fit for emergencies: GRS combines theory and practice in training

The aim of the training provided by GRS and its subsidiary Riskaudit was to train more than 40 participants from authorities, health services, the military, environmental protection and other institutions theoretically and practically in radiation protection and to make them fit for the search for orphaned sources. The best practices of the EU and the international community in the field of identification, characterisation and recovery of orphaned radioactive sources were presented. The contents range from the basics of radiation protection to the calculation and measurement of activity and the shielding effect of radiation. The planning of search activities, the use of measuring instruments and the salvaging and transport of a found source were also discussed.

In field exercises, the Mongolian experts had to locate radioactive sources in buildings and in a military outdoor area. The teams were to solve the questions of how, where and for how long to search and how to distribute tasks and resources (e.g. measuring instruments for radiation). Once the sources had been successfully located, the teams had to decide what to do with them. The sources first had to be characterised and then safely packaged for transport and transported to a suitable interim or final storage facility. Finally, the participants discussed their experiences and identified the need for further knowledge and technical equipment. The desire for regular further training was also expressed.

Experts develop strategic guidelines

The experts of GRS and the Mongolian Nuclear Energy Commission (NEC) prepared a strategic guide for the identification and characterisation of stray radiation sources for the project. The guide was tested during the field exercise. It is currently being optimised on the basis of the experience gained. It is to promote a planned approach to search activities.

Especially in the region around the iron-industry town of Erdent in the Mongolian province of Orkhon, abandoned radioactive components are often found and others are suspected. Together with the Mongolian authorities, GRS will therefore investigate suspect areas in detail in the autumn of this year. GRS experts will support the work of the Mongolian colleagues with their own measuring technology.


Sven Dokter, GRS