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NNSA partnerships advance global radiological security

A cancer researcher prepares to irradiate a cell sample using an X-ray irradiator (pictured). This particular irradiator was provided under a partnership with NNSA under the Cesium Irradiator Replacement Project.

Cancer treatment. Blood irradiation. Agriculture sanitization. These and many other critical commercial, medical, and research applications rely on radioactive sources to be effective.

The challenge is that these sources can be incredibly dangerous in the hands of terrorist seeking to deploy a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or “dirty bomb.” The good news is that there are alternative technologies available that do not rely on radioactive sources. NNSA plays a major role in encouraging transition to these technologies. 

One of the essential ways NNSA encourages this transition is by engaging in partnerships with private sector users of radioactive sources, including private industry, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations. NNSA works to understand their needs and then identify ways to help them transition voluntarily to more secure technologies. 

One area in which NNSA’s private sector partners are transitioning to a non-radioactive source based alternative technology is in the field of blood and research irradiation. The users of these irradiators are replacing their cesium radioactive source irradiators with X-ray irradiators. X-ray irradiators perform the same function without using a radioactive source.

NNSA supports this transition in the U.S. through its Cesium Irradiator Replacement Project (CIRP), which provides a financial incentive to partners for replacing cesium irradiators with X-ray irradiators, as well as for the removal and disposal of the cesium irradiators.

In recent months, NNSA held meetings with the University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs and the university’s Medical Radiation Research Center, as well as with the State of California and the cities of New York and Atlanta, to discuss radiological security and the transition to alternative technologies.

In addition to these domestic efforts, NNSA also works to promote the adoption of alternative technologies internationally. On an annual basis, NNSA and the government of France co-chair the third annual Ad Hoc Working Group on Alternative Technology. This working group allows governments, the International Atomic Energy Agency, non-governmental organizations, and industry stakeholders to share their experiences in adopting alternative technologies, exchange information about technical and operational requirements, and discuss opportunities for future engagement on alternative technologies.

Taken together, NNSA’s public-private and international engagements are vital to encouraging a transition away from material that could be used in an RDD or “dirty bomb” into more secure and improved technologies.