Radiation Safety: Real World Case


One afternoon in March 2021, a commercial vehicle got into an accident with another

vehicle on I-95 in North Carolina.

Accidents like this happen all the time,

but in this case the accident was potentially much more severe because the commercial vehicle was carrying radioactive uranium hexafluoride, which can be used to make fuel for nuclear power plants. Fortunately, the material did not leak, the people involved were not exposed, and it did not cause contamination.


Every year, about three million shipments that contain radioactive material are transported in the United State according to the EPA. Most radioactive material is shipped on the highway and are packaged and transported according to strict federal regulations.


The first person on the scene should take the following actions:


1. If you are the first person to see an accident, call immediately.

2. Follow instructions from the responders on the scene of the accident.

3. Move away from the area.


First responders arrive on scene and make sure everyone involved in the accident is ok and gets the help they need. Their second job is to address the “radiation emergency” that is unfolding. Radiation emergencies can be accidental or intentional events. This is considered a Transportation Emergency, because it happened while radioactive materials were being transported by roadway. Most people think of a nuclear power plant accident when they think of radiation emergencies, although those are extremely rare because of the extensive safeguards in place at commercial and government nuclear facilities. More common radiation emergencies are leaks from a potentially radioactively contaminated equipment, finding (or losing) radioactive materials from facilities where they are used for research or medical procedures, and the misuse of industrial radiographic source materials.


Employers whose workers are the emergency response to radiation emergencies should thoroughly plan the response in advance to ensure that their workers are adequately prepared if such an incident occurs.


Planning should include:


  • Evaluating anticipated radiation exposures during radiation emergencies.

  • Developing procedures for reducing and maintaining emergency responder exposures to levels As Low as Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) by using the appropriate dosimetry.

  • Obtaining appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators and other protective equipment and clothing, for emergency response workers who enter contaminated areas.

  • Developing appropriate decision-making criteria for responding to catastrophic incidents that may involve high radiation exposure levels.

  • Informing and educating emergency response workers about emergency response procedures and controls.

Having a plan and practicing it is the key to success in containing a radioactive emergency. First responders rely on having the right radiation detectors on scene to measure radiation levels, empowering them to make the best decisions based on an accurate reading of the onsite radiation levels. Choosing the right detectors and dosimeters can be difficult, so the Department of Homeland Security created the System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) Program. This program assists emergency responders in making procurement decisions and provides emergency responders with information they need to make knowledgeable decisions about acquiring, using, and maintaining their radiation detectors. It helps first responders answer the question “What detectors are available?” and “How do they perform?”


Need help selecting a PRD? We are happy to help. First, you can take a look at our document "Selecting a PRD". If you have any questions, please contact us. Our experienced staff can help you in choosing the right radiation detector.


For this radiation emergency, the RadEye PRD-ER4 by Thermo Scientific is the perfect choice for radiation detection. This is the detector of choice for law enforcement, border guards, and special forces because it is ideal for making an initial inspection to find the radiation source, then quickly distinguishing between non-issues (such as medical patients receiving radiation therapy) from serious issues like radiological dispersal devices (RDD), also known as “dirty bombs”.


In this way, the RadEye PRD-ER4 is used for both interdiction and safety. It has a high detection sensitivity with few nuisance alarms, saving first responders time by not having to deal with extraneous alarms. The nuisance alarms are filtered by Natural Background Rejection (NBR) Technology, so naturally occurring radiation fluctuations are ignored and relevant radiation is analyzed. Without NBR technology, first responders in the field can get distracted by alarms due to granite, natural stone, and subway tiles. The RadEye PRD-ER4 identifies the nature of the discovered material, meaning the type of isotope the detector is alerting to is identified. Because these detectors were specifically made for first responders in the field, it can be calibrated at the scene, saving time in an emergency.


All told, this radiation emergency took 5 hours to resolve. By having a plan and practicing the plan, the first responders quickly and effectively assessed the situation and remediated the radiation emergency. The key to this success was having the best radiation detectors for the situation. By understanding our customer’s pain points and by having in-depth technical knowledge about radiation detectors, Advetage Solutions works with government agencies and the private sector and listens to their unique needs to create a complete solution.

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