The latest in our series highlighting the varied responsibilities of the Office for Nuclear Regulation looks at the transport of radioactive materials by non-nuclear organisations.
David Rowe, a transport inspector at ONR, explains how he helps to regulate the transport of radioactive materials within the medical environment.
Every day, courier companies and hospitals across Britain transport radiopharmaceuticals which are used in the treatment of medical conditions. These products contain, for example, iodine to treat thyroid problems and technetium for the diagnosis of various diseases. The levels of radioactivity in these materials are such that the organisations transporting them must do so in compliance with the Carriage of Dangerous Goods (CDG) Regulations and the European ADR Agreement on the carriage of dangerous goods by road, enforced in Great Britain by ONR.
What does ONR require?
We require consignors and carriers of radioactive material to demonstrate, through their systems and procedures, how they comply with the regulations in terms of, for example, the packaging, radiation protection, the vehicle, driver training and emergency arrangements.
Liquid radiopharmaceutical materials, when transported to and from hospitals, are usually contained in vials, packaged in what appear to be small suitcases, but which are in fact dedicated ‘Type A’ packages: these packages have to undergo tests to ensure that they can withstand various physical impacts and occurrences such as extreme weather conditions. Any organisation using one of these packages must be able to present evidence to ONR, to demonstrate that it complies with the test requirements, and must show that it is being correctly marked and labelled, and that the radiation level from the package is being accurately assessed for specific consignments. In addition, on each journey, as well as having photo identification and emergency arrangements, the driver must be able to show that all of the necessary equipment is in the vehicle to deal with an emergency.
Where there is evidence of an organisation not complying with the regulations, we explain what is required, then agree on how the issues can be rectified and establish a timescale for corrective action.
Transport incidents in the non-nuclear sector are varied and mostly minor, but organisations must have contingency arrangements in place in case of, for example, a vehicle fire or a serious road traffic accident. If such an incident should occur, the consignor and the carrier of the material have a duty to notify ONR. We will then advise them about their legal responsibilities, prevent further transport of the package until we are satisfied that it still complies with the regulations, ensure that any transport after the incident is carried out in accordance with the regulations and take enforcement action if necessary.
Working with industry
Along with inspections, we provide advice on transporting radioactive material, answer queries on the regulations and give presentations on regulatory matters at seminars and conferences. ONR also provides guidance notes to the non-nuclear sector, which you can find on our website.
There are, on average, around half a million movements of radioactive material by road in this country every year, and many of these are pharmaceuticals with a very short decay time (half-life), measured in days, hours or even minutes. By working with the non-nuclear sector in the ways described above, ONR seeks to ensure that these materials arrive at their destination on time, without compromising safety.