Orphan Sources

The NRC is taking action to address the problem of unwanted and uncontrolled radioactive materials, often referred to as orphan sources.

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What is an Orphan Source?

The term "orphan source" generally refers to a sealed source of radioactive material contained in a small volume--but not radioactively contaminated soils and bulk metals--in any one or more of the following conditions:

  • In an uncontrolled condition that requires removal to protect public health and safety from a radiological threat.
  • Controlled or uncontrolled, but for which a responsible party cannot be readily identified.
  • Nominally controlled, but there is an imminent radiological threat. If held by a licensee, the licensee has few or no options for, or is incapable of providing for, the safe disposition of the material.
  • In the possession of a person, not licensed to possess the material, who did not seek to possess the material
  • In the possession of a State radiological protection program for the sole purpose of mitigating a radiological threat because the orphan source is in one of the conditions described in one of the first four bullets and for which the State does not have a means to provide for the material's appropriate disposition.

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Examples of Instances Where Orphan Sources Have Become a Problem

  • Measuring and controlling devices containing radioactive materials that were improperly disposed of as scrap metal and taken to metal recyclers.
  • Radioactive material used with gauges in industrial processes and in road and building construction that was found by the side of the road or in a river.
  • Sealed radioactive sources used in oil and gas exploration that are no longer wanted but contain radioactive materials that exceed the limits for disposal at commercial low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities.

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Intergovernmental Collaboration

The NRC has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The NRC also provides funding to the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors (CRCPD) --a group of State radiation protection officials--to support a national program for safely dealing with unwanted radioactive materials.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also maintains programs for assistance, Cleaning Up Our Land, Water, and Air.

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