Radioactive sources now in safe storage in Congo with support from the IAEA

Two disused radioactive sources, formerly used in cancer treatment, are now in safe and secure storage in the Republic of Congo, following successful transportation and increased security in their temporary storage facility, with support from the IAEA.

The sources no longer emit enough radioactivity to be useful for radiotherapy but are still radioactive and therefore must be controlled and handled in a safe and secure manner. They are expected to be exported out of the country next year.

“It took time to understand the risks posed by disused radiotherapy sources stored for so long in our country. Under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Congo, all national actors have come together as one to ensure the removal of the disused radiotherapy source, in order to avert any potential radiological impact on the Congolese people, “said Martin Parfait Aimé Coussoud- Mavoungou, Minister of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation.

Protecting these two sources is a very significant step towards greater nuclear safety in Central Africa, said Raja Adnan, who oversaw the work and activities of the IAEA Division for Nuclear Safety as Division Director until the end of the year. 2020. “The safe and secure transport and temporary storage of these disused sources has enabled the country to ensure that there is no risk of malicious acts or accidents with the potential for radiological exposure that could compromise the safety of people and environment, “he said.

Around the world, radioactive material is routinely used to diagnose and treat disease, conduct research, and help manufacturers meet industry specifications and standards. This material is generally handled in a safe and secure manner during use; however, when it reaches the end of its useful life, the risk of abandonment, loss or malicious acts increases. The IAEA Safety Standards and Safety Guidelines provide international requirements for the safety and protection of radioactive material in use, storage and transportation and, through its technical cooperation program, the Agency provides support to countries to recover, transport and manage them.

A tale of two sources

In 2010, Brazzaville University Hospital received a new sealed cobalt 60 (Co-60) source for the hospital’s teletherapy machine, replacing its original source, which was no longer able to provide effective treatment. . The disused sealed source was then packed and shipped by boat to the supplier. However, the delivery of the package was blocked during transit due to problems with shipping documents and was returned to the Republic of the Congo. Since 2010, the Co-60 source has been stored in the autonomous port of Pointe Noire, one of the most important commercial ports in Central Africa.

Meanwhile, the replacement source installed in the Brazzaville University Hospital teletherapy machine has also decayed to a level of radioactivity that is no longer useful for clinical teletherapy. As a result, the country now had to contend with two disused sources.

In recent years, IAEA nuclear safety and technical cooperation experts and their counterparts in the Republic of Congo have redoubled their efforts to address the risks posed by the presence of these disused sources stationed in the hospital and port. A detailed national action plan was developed, involving the cooperation of different branches of government, including the Ministries of Defense, Transport, Health, Mines and Energy, as well as the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation .

Lessons from Beirut

“The explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 reminded the Congolese authorities of the risks to unmanaged or unregulated material, particularly in domestic ports and ports,” said Coussoud-Mavoungou. Congolese decision makers agreed that the disused spring had to urgently leave the autonomous port of Pointe Noire.

After a thorough planning and preparation phase, a transport safety plan was finalized on site in November, with the support of IAEA experts. They designed a security system for the package and conducted a verification and simulation prior to shipment. At the same time, 45 participants were trained from the five government ministries involved in road transport of the spring to Pointe Noire.

On November 17, 2020, IAEA experts also conducted a site assessment of the places where the sources would be temporarily stored until final export. Following the assessment, the government made changes in line with IAEA recommendations to increase the safety of these locations.

The road transport of the Pointe Noire spring took place at the end of the mission of the IAEA experts. Now, the sources are protected and awaiting final removal from the country into an appropriate long-term storage facility.

“In addition to organizing seminars on transportation safety, IAEA experts also reviewed our transportation plans and helped administer the recovery mission. This support has been invaluable and both sources are now awaiting transport out of the country, “Coussoud-Mavoungou said addressing the national multi-ministerial team after the successful completion of the transport.

News Highlights:

  • The sources no longer emit enough radioactivity to be useful for radiotherapy but are still radioactive and therefore must be controlled and handled in a safe and secure manner.
  • Radioactive sources now in safe storage in Congo with support from the IAEA