Purchase of sealed radioactive sources
The answer to the first part of the question is YES, you are still able to purchase radioisotopes. The sources suitable for use in schools come as sealed sources. Available sources are polonium 210 (alpha particles), strontium 90 (beta particles) and cobalt 60 (gamma rays). These are available from a number of science suppliers. See our School science suppliers list for contact details of general school science suppliers. Purchase of any radioactive materials should also take into consideration the disposal of these as well. Science ASSIST has developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for sealed radioactive sources. It is a guide on how sealed radioactive sources are stored, used and disposed of correctly. This can be found at: SOP: Handling sealed radioactive sources.
Through further correspondence, we understand that there may be some radioactive ores that may have spilled. It is good advice to not touch the radioactive materials. There is a big difference in the risk of handling sealed radioactive sources and unsealed sources such as uranyl nitrate and mineral ores. Unsealed sources present a much higher risk to human health due to possible exposure through the skin, ingestion or inhalation. If radioactive materials are contained in a lead-lined box, then you have some protection from the radiation being emitted and are also not exposing yourself to physical contact with the dusts of unsealed sources. It is recommended that you, and all schools who either already have or are contemplating purchasing radioactive materials, familiarise yourself with and have a printed copy of the safety guide for schools developed by The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). See Safety Guide for the Use of Radiation in Schools (2012).
Disposal of radioactive materials
In relation to further information on disposal of radioactive materials, the first place to seek information is the radiation section of the health department in your state.
ARPANSA is the Australian Government's primary authority on radiation protection and nuclear safety. However, each state and territory is responsible for regulating the licencing and compliance in line with its own laws. ARPANSA works with state and territory regulators to promote national uniformity of radiation protection. For details of your state/territory regulator see https://www.arpansa.gov.au/regulation-and-licensing/regulation/state-territory-regulators
Disposal of radioactive materials is quite challenging and depends upon their activity level and whether it is above the exempt levels. Schools do not generally have the equipment to measure these levels. School Geiger counters tend to measure relative activity and need to be calibrated to accurately measure the actual activity levels. Schools may need to engage the services of a private contractor to determine this, which could be very costly.
State/territory regulators will be able to give you directions on suitable disposal for your region. You may need to engage the services of a private contractor who has the necessary transport and storage licencing requirements to dispose of your radioactive materials. Your radiation regulator should be able to confirm if they are a suitable contractor who is compliant with these requirements.
Some general information regarding radiation protection as well as radioactive disposal can be found at the following sites:
- https://www.arpansa.gov.au/understanding-radiation/radiation-sources/mor... (Link updated July 2017)
Some online resources that relate to radiation that may be useful are: