67  Radioactive wastes

Summary advice on dealing with Radioactive wastes

If radioactive waste is discovered in an isolated location where it will not interfere with normal work or traffic movement then contact  (i) police;  (ii) the local hospital and ask for a hospital physicist, and  (iii) the local Environment Agency office.  The Hospital Physics Department, particularily if they are aware of NAIR (see below), NRPB or Environment Agency radioactive substances regulation (RSR) expert can usually advise on sensible precautions.  The National Radiological Protection Board (01235 831600) is a national body set up to give advice to the public.

If farmland has become contaminated Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food should be informed.  The Ministry of Defence deal with their own sites and have an expert group called Radiation Protection Services at Alverstoke (01705 768 147).

Controls in Law
There are three main areas of legislation dealing with radioactive waste.  The Ionising Radiation Regulations 1985 cover worker safety and are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (which also covers nuclear sites such as Sizewell B).  The Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (amended by the Environment Act 1995) controls the keeping, use, accumulation and disposal of radioactive materials and wastes, and is enforced by the Environment Agency (the Emergency number is 0800 80 70 60).  Separate legislation covers the movement of radioactive materials, and is enforced by the Radioactive Materials Transport Directorate which is part of DETR in London.

The Radioactive Substances Act 1993 requires that before any radioactive material is used on a premise or moved around the UK it must be pre-‘Registered’ with the Environment Agency.  The Act permits certain forms of radioactivity to be exempted.  Advice on the Act and the Exemption Orders should be obtained from a Radioactive Substances Regulation expert within the Environment Agency.  The registration defines the radionuclides and radioactivity levels that can be held on a premises or moved around the UK under a ‘mobile’ registration.  Wastes can only be sent from the premises under an ‘Authorisation’ or an Exemption Order.  Most radioactive waste leaves by well defined methods to sites specified in the Authorisation: aqueous wastes go to drains; organic and solid wastes go to commercial incinerators; very low level radioactive wastes go to landfill.  Such disposals from an Authorised premises are subjected to careful assessment and must comply with National and International limits.  Any losses from a Registered or Authorised site must, by law, be reported to the Environment Agency.

Closed sources and exemption from radioactive waste controls 
Closed sources are exempted from radioactive waste controls if they are sent to an authorised disposal site, or a person who holds an Authorisation (such as at a hospital or university), or to the manufacturer of similar sources.  Agreement is needed in advance and there must be compliance with the Transport Regulations.  It is possible to contact Safeguard International Ltd, B329, Harwell Business Centre, Didcot, OXON OX11 0QJ, Tel 01235 432070, Fax 01235 432978 (see organisations list below), which acts as carrier of radioactive material, ie closed sources, open waste items etc, and ensures that material is sent to an authorised disposal site, for incineration, decay storage or processing for long-term storage.  Safeguard is not the final disposal site, and cannot receive sources at its address, but can arrange to package the sources at the customer's site according to the transport regulations and transport them to their final destination.  Advice on what constitutes a closed source can be obtained from the Environment Agency or the National Radiological Protection Board, but basically they are solid.  Liquids and powders are not usually exempt.

Examples of items that have been discovered
Typical examples of closed sources which are ‘discovered’ are as follows.  Depleted uranium (which is used to replace lead in certain situations such as aircraft wings, counterbalance weights on oil rigs and radiation shielding containers) is found most often in scrapyards, and similar sites.  These can usually be identified by the weight, and can safely be put to one side until expert advice is obtained.  Smoke detectors, which are exempt when in use in buildings, are regularly abandoned and end up as landfill waste when the building is demolished.  The outer packaging may have the trefoil radiation sign. They can be handled and should be put to one side.  Anti-static devices, often from spray guns or the polishing of plastics in industry, may contain Polonium 210 and have been stolen from time to time.  They have a limited life and should be returned to Nycomed Amersham.  They should not be burnt.  Many packages are sent by courier to hospitals and universities, and sometimes the packaging has radiation symbols on it.  If they turn up in the public domain they are usually empty.  It they contain a yellow or blue plastic bottle do not open it, but contact the sender.

Who can help
Anyone finding suspect radioactivity can call the Environment Agency for advice on 0800 807060.  The inspectors, (now called RSR officers) have access to radiation monitors and will check the nature of sources which have been discovered.  The National Radiological Protection Board will also give advice and will conduct checks on material; they conduct some work for payment.  Names of other contractors who will give advice can be obtained from the Environment Agency.  The NRPB run a scheme called the National Arrangements for Incidents Involving Radioactivity, or NAIR.  It is usually triggered by the police.  Certain hospitals with Authorisations are permitted to take charge of radioactive material under NAIR.

It is not possible to give exhaustive advice.  Seek assistance from one of the organisations above.  Most of the radioactivity likely to be discovered has been used in some form or other by people and is unlikely to cause harm, particularly if handled for only a short time.  But the most sensible advice in dealing with radioactivity is not to handle it.  If it is isolated, leave it alone and get help.  If it is necessary to touch the material, wherever possible use rubber or leather gloves and wrap the material in plastic.  If possible, use a simple tool like a shovel to manipulate it, keeping your distance.  If there appears to be liquid leaking from a container marked with a radiation symbol then throw down absorbent material, move away and call the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 straight away.

Some sources coming from radiographic equipment such as road checking equipment can give off high levels of radiation.  Close contact would be dangerous.  Road density devices come in very large orange boxes carrying the name of the manufacturer.  If there is any doubt about the origin, maintain 10 metres distance and seek advice.  Examples of such materials are Cobalt 60, Iridium 192 and Ytterbium 167.  Their ‘usual’ containers are invariably heavy but if the radioactive pellet falls out then it is dangerous and a safe distance is imperative.  They are regulated as Mobile Registrations and may be associated with a vehicle.  Any van with a radioactive sign on it which is involved in a road traffic accident should indicate on paperwork in the cab what it is carrying.  Such situations should be dealt with by somebody with a radiation dose meter.

Packages containing radioactivity travel regularly by air or road in the UK.  The boxes are marked with the trefoil sign.  Inside the outer box or container, the source pot may be blue or yellow, about 4 cm (1.5-2 inches) across, and about 10 cm or 3 inches high.  There may be an advice note to indicate the sender or owner but the source pot should not be opened nor should the material be handled.  Radioactivity is not always carried in lead pots but often is and such a container is a good indication that radioactive material may be inside.


Alphabetical list of organisations

AEA Technology plc
Nuclear Technology, Harwell International Business Centre, Harwell, Didcot, Oxon OX11 OQJ
Tel 01235 434212  (Head Office:  switchboard 0870 112 1024,  Fax 01235 432916)
Email enquiry@aeat.co.uk
Website www.aeat.co.uk , www.aeat-env.com 

Radioactive waste management specialist.  One of the UK's larger environmental consultancies.  Parent company to Safeguard International (see below) and necten (Green waste and composting section 11).  AEA Technology Environment was formed 1998, merging AEAT's environmental abilities into one large organisation, its divisions being: necten; Future Energy Solutions; Momenta; Environment, Health and Safety; Kinectrics; and Rail (see AEAT's site: www.aeat-env.com).  (Updated Feb 2004)

Institution of Nuclear Engineers

Tel 0208 698 4750 / 0208 698 1500  Fax 0208 695 6409
1 Penerley Road, Catford, LONDON SE6 2LQ

Small professional engineering body promoting and advancing nuclear engineering and allied branches of science.

Ireland AlloysLtd
Tel 01698 822461
Website www.ireland-alloys.co.uk  Email trader@ireland-alloys.co.uk  
PO Box 18, HAMILTON, Scotland ML3 0EL
Contact  Allan Addie, Director

Recycling plant, slogan "We do a great deal with your scrap".  Provides revert management solutions.  Processors of aerospace alloys.  Buys, processes and sells complex alloys.  Will buy solids, turnings and residues in small or large tonnages.  Website lists these, with chemical makeup, properties and applications.  Also has a clear diagram of the periodic table and alphabetical list of the elements!  Established 1964.  Member of Murray Metals Group.   (Updated July 2005)

National Radiological Protection Board

Web Site www.nrpb.org.uk
Tel 01235 831600  Fax 01235 833891
Chilton, DIDCOT, Oxon OX11 0RQ

Statutory body concerned with protection from radiation hazards from both radioactive materials and electromagnetic sources. Provides information, advice, technical services, and training in radiological protection to individuals and organisations with responsibilities in such matters, for which a charge may be made.

Nirex United Kingdom

Tel 01235 825500  Fax 01235 831239
Curie Avenue, Harwell, DIDCOT, Oxon OX11 0RH

Private limited company established originally as a government executive body to carry out policy strategy for the disposal of low to intermediate level solid radioactive waste.

NSG Environmental Ltd

Tel 01753 552655  Fax 01753 553393
Grove Court, Hatfield Road, SLOUGH, Berks SL1 1QU

Removal, disposal and encapsulation of contaminated soil, including low level radioactive waste.

Nycomed Amersham
Tel 01494 544000  Fax 01494 543588
White Lion Road, AMERSHAM, Bucks HP7 9LL

Leases paintspray guns, which contain Polonium 210, to garages and body shops, initially for trial period. Full information pack supplied. Depleted sprayguns collected after 12 months.

Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Tel 0207 276 8121  Fax 0207 276 8863
48 Marsham Street, LONDON SW1P 3PY

Government advisory body on the technical and environmental implications of radioactive waste.

Safeguard International
(a business name of AEA Technology plc)
Tel 0800 328 3790  Fax 0870 190 8420
Website www.safeguard-international.com  Email enquiries@safeguard-international.com   
329 Harwell Business Centre, Didcot, OXON, OX11 0QJ
Contact  Tim Dowling, Sales manager

Specialist organisation providing services specifically for users of radioactivity in medicine, research and industry, from advice to complete waste management service.  Handling, transport and disposal of materials as demanded by complex UK regulations controlling use of radioactivity.  Acts as carrier of radioactive material including closed sources (see introductory editorial above) and open waste items, ensuring material is sent to an authorised disposal site for incineration, decay storage or processing for long-term storage.  Cannot act as a final disposal site or receive sources at its address, but can arrange to package sources at the customer's site according to the regulations and transport them to their final destination.  More info on website.  (Updated Apr 2005)

UK Atomic Energy Authority
Tel 01235 821111  Fax 01235 832591
CHQ Harwell, DIDCOT, Oxon OX11 0RA

Statutory body established in 1954, now trading as AEA Technology.  Its main functions are concerned with nuclear energy, including the disposal of radioactive substances. Other functions include the promotion and financing of nuclear research and provision of information, education and training in nuclear science.