Radioactive Sources Safely Used in Canada for the Benefit of all Canadians

Radioactive devices containing Cesium-137 and Cobalt-60 are proven technologies used globally for cancer therapy, sterilization of medical devices and irradiation of blood for treatment of patients. They are being used by nearly 100 hospitals, blood banks and universities in Canada.

These devices are available from suppliers all over the world. As examples, there are 94 Cesium-137 devices in Canada, and several thousand in the United States. These devices are used for medical purposes in most countries around the world.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for the regulation of the use, possession and storage of all nuclear substances in Canada including Cesium-137 and Cobalt-60 devices referred to as “sealed sources”.

These devices are used safely in Canada. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates its use and makes sure that it is used only for essential services and in secured facilities.

In fact, CNSC regulatory requirements for safety and security controls over radioactive sources have been strengthened in recent years. Any Cesium-based devices that did not meet the full CNSC regulatory requirements were safely disposed. The CNSC also specifically enhanced security requirements for all nuclear devices and is satisfied that appropriate measures are being taken by licensees to ensure the safe operation and security of these devices.

The CNSC has a strong licensing and compliance system to ensure that all persons who use, possess and store nuclear substances and radiation devices do so in accordance with a licence and have in place safety and security provisions commensurate with the risks associated with the substance or device. The CNSC bases its decisions on regulatory best practices and international guidance. In addition, the CNSC audits locations with these devices to ensure required security provisions are in place. At all times, the CNSC knows the number and location of sources used in Canada.

The CNSC is aware of recommendations to enhance the safety and security of radiation sources and further reduce the potential risk of malicious use. Alternative technologies to radiation sources may be one approach and these potential alternatives are being studied globally. The 2004 Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency characterized all sealed sources according to an internationally accepted risk profile. The Code of Conduct requires all signatory nations to implement certain security measures to ensure the safety and protection of persons and the environment resulting from the use of these sources. One of these requirements is the implementation of a tracking system to monitor the movement of the high-risk sealed sources as defined in the Code of Conduct.

Canada was an early signatory to the Code of Conduct and is the first G8 country to completely meet this requirement. In January 2006, the CNSC fully implemented the Sealed Source Tracking System (SSTS) as part of the National Sealed Source Registry (NSSR) to track the location and possession of all high risk sealed sources. CNSC staff knows how many such sources are in Canada, their locations, and when they are transferred.