A Reassessment of Radioactive Material Security in Health Care and Biomedical Research


E. M. Leidholdt, Jr., G. E. Williams, E. L. McGuire


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities use radioactive material for health care and biomedical research. In the past, a single level of security for all radioactive material was generally deemed to be adequate. The events of 11 September 2001 prompted a reassessment of security. Based on site visits to VA facilities possessing a range of radioactive material typically used in health care and biomedical research, the VA National Health Physics Program has compiled recommendations for the security of radioactive material. A primary recommendation is to evaluate radioactive material from a risk perspective and use security measures commensurate with risk. The risk evaluation should consider activity, half-life, exposure rate constant, ALI, ease of removal/portability, and dispersibility. We concluded that current security measures are likely adequate for the risks associated with most nuclear medicine departments and biomedical research laboratories. However, for radioactive material of higher risk, particularly multicurie sources of long half-life, the radiation safety staff should consult with police/security experts to determine if additional security measures are warranted. This focus on risk should help optimize resource allocation. We also recommend that security evaluations consider both physical security and personnel security, training of staff with unescorted access to higher-risk radioactive material emphasize security issues, and disposal of higher-risk material not likely to be used. Finally, we note that the goals of security can be in conflict with hazard awareness and hazard communication.


This abstract was presented at the 36th Annual Midyear Meeting, "Radiation Safety Aspects of Homeland Security and Emergency Response", Operational Health Physics Aspects/Impacts of Homeland Defense Session, 1/26/2003 - 1/29/2003, held in San Antonio, TX.

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