National Nuclear Security Administration

Strengthening radiological security through alternative technology in California

March 19, 2018

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Hosts of the meeting at the University of California discuss Alternative Technologies for Cesium Irradiators, at Genentech Hall Auditorium and Atrium at the University of California, San Francisco.
Hosts of the meeting at the University of California discuss Alternative Technologies for Cesium Irradiators, at Genentech Hall Auditorium and Atrium at the University of California, San Francisco.

How can we balance the benefits radioactive sources play in commercial, medical, and research applications with the need for security? To help address this question, NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security (ORS) partnered with California to enhance the security of sites that have high-activity radioactive sources.

ORS encourages medical and research facilities using cesium-137 (Cs-137) irradiators to transition to X-ray irradiation. Through the 2020 Cities Initiative, ORS aims to prevent terrorists from obtaining radioactive sources including Cs-137 that can be used in a “dirty bomb” or radiological dispersal device.

ORS and the University of California joined the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Los Angeles and San Francisco to raise awareness of the security benefits of the alternative, non-radioactive source-based options available to replace irradiators that use radioactive materials. During these sessions, medical and research facility personnel learned from experts and X-ray device manufacturers about device capabilities, and heard first-hand experiences on converting to alternative technologies.

Through the partnership with the University of California, ORS aims to support the replacement of the vast majority of the university’s Cs-137 irradiators – nearly half of all Cs-137 irradiators in California. The university’s irradiator replacement effort sets a powerful example for blood and research institutions around the country, and around the world, that are considering alternative technologies.

In addition to providing security benefits, switching from Cs-137 irradiators to X-ray irradiators can also provide long-term cost savings and operational benefits for sites. Using X-ray irradiators reduces the need to maintain expensive surveillance systems and security procedures, and greatly reduces the costs of material disposal. Some sites have also reported increased productivity in the amount of blood they can process.

The ORS Cesium Irradiator Replacement Project (CIRP) can also provide financial support for facilities interested in switching, helping offset the cost by removing the source-based device and sharing the cost of purchasing a new X-ray device.