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Wednesday, 13 January 2016 09:00

IAEA reaches milestone in disposal of radioactive sources

Successful tests last month of a promising technology for moving and storing low level radioactive sealed sources are paving the way for a new disposal method for dealing with small volumes of radioactive waste around the world, Caspian Energy News (www.caspianenergy.net) reports with reference to the press statement of IAEA.

The method, which involves placing and covering sealed sources in a narrow hole a few hundred metres deep, would allow countries to safely and securely take charge of their own disused radioactive sources. The proof of concept for the technology was tested in Croatia last month — without the use of actual radioactive material.

Virtually all countries use radioactive sources in health care, industry and other sectors. Many, though, do not have the equipment or staff needed to deal with these once they are no longer usable. Under typical circumstances, a developing country using sealed radioactive sources may generate hundreds of disused sources with low levels of radioactivity over several years, according to IAEA estimates.

 “Low activity sources pose the larger challenge because they exist in large quantities around the world and in different forms and variations,” said Andrew Tompkins, a nuclear engineer at the IAEA.

In most developing countries, sealed radioactive sources are stored temporarily. Some developed countries have disposal facilities close to the surface. Both of these pose a security risk if they are not sufficiently protected. The new disposal method represents a long-term solution to this problem that will ultimately help protect people and the environment.

Equipment tests conducted by IAEA engineers and a Croatian radiation protection company confirm the feasibility of a system used to safely move and insert low activity sources as part of borehole disposal.

The tested technology, developed for disused sources with low levels of radioactivity, relies on a robust metal platform and a mobile container called transfer cask, which is used to move the sources into the borehole safely. “It’s simple, affordable and can be deployed worldwide,” said Janos Balla, a waste technology engineer at the IAEA.

See this photo essay to learn about the details of the transfer cask test.

 “We realized that countries that had low levels of waste, modest infrastructure and limited human and financial resources needed a safe, straightforward and practical solution,” said Balla.

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