Curaçao receives IAEA support for legacy sources management

April 9, 2024, 12:01PMNuclear News
In Curaçao, IAEA experts built national capacity through demonstrations, including practicing removing the Ra-226 source from the container, characterizing it, and placing it into a stainless-steel capsule. (Photo: IAEA)

Once used for applications in medicine, industry, and research, many countries now have legacy radium-226 sources, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. With the support of the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, these disused sealed radioactive sources are being recovered, and countries are improving national capacities for their long-term management, including their potential reuse and recycling.

Radioactive sources have been used in the country of Curaçao for several decades, including for brachytherapy services to treat various types of cancers. In January 2024, a total of 134 Ra-226 low-activity radioactive sources were recovered from a concrete bunker beneath the Sint-Elisabeth Hospital in the city of Willemstad, where they had been buried for more than 50 years. An IAEA mission supported the transfer of the Ra-226 sources to a temporary storage facility, where the packages will be safely stored until the nation implements an end-of-life solution.

Curaçao is a small island developing state and one of four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The assistance to Curaçao was implemented thorough a financial contribution of the Netherlands.

At the end of the mission, the IAEA-led team confirmed that the concrete bunker contained only natural levels of radiation. This meant that it could be released from regulatory control.

“The hospital is finally free of [disused] radioactive material,” said Ciaretta Profas, policy advisor for the Curaçao Ministry of Health, Environment, and Nature. “The expert mission provided a sound foundation for Curaçao’s implementation of safe control of radioactive sources.”

Other work: In February 2024, the IAEA also supported the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board in recovering 114 disused sealed radioactive sources, including those containing Ra-226 and other elements. The sources were recovered from different devices, such as level and density gauges, brachytherapy applicators, and lighting conductors. Following the hands-on training of national counterparts, all recovered sources were detailed, characterized, registered, encapsulated, and safely stored. The sources now await the next step in their life cycle, whether it be reuse, recycling, or disposal.

“The collaborative spirit and shared expertise demonstrated throughout this mission have significantly bolstered our capabilities in the management of radioactive materials,” said S. R. D. Rosa, chair of the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board. “It has not only augmented our operation efficiency but has also played a crucial role in advancing our ongoing initiatives aimed at sustaining the management of disused sealed radioactive sources.”

Source management: The IAEA supports countries in the management of legacy Ra-226 sources under the IAEA’s Global Radium Management Initiative. It connects member states with disused sealed radioactive sources with those that can recycle them or those that are interested in reusing them for valuable applications, including cancer care.

“Developing detailed approaches to dealing with sealed radioactive sources that have reached the end of their useful life is crucial for the sustainability of nuclear applications,” said Nora Zakaria, head of the IAEA’s Waste Technology Section. “By engaging with the Global Radium Management Initiative to recycle radium sources, member states can create a solid plan for future work in this area.”