Alternative Technologies for Industrial Applications
Radiation Source Reduction & Management
- Main Page
- About Source Reduction & Management
- Life-Cycle Analysis & Product Stewardship
- Sealed Radioactive Sources
- Common Industrial Uses
- Commonly-Used Radionuclides
- Alternative Technologies
- Alternatives: Development & Acceptance
- Alternative Technology Projects
- Stakeholders and Partners
Approximately 25 different radionuclides are used in industrial devices, such as radiography cameras and devices for measuring moisture, density, or thickness of materials. These devices perform important functions in industry. However, at the end of their useful life, their radioactive sources present a significant waste management problem. If mismanaged, they also present a potential threat to the environment and human health.
EPA is seeking to reduce the number of sealed radiation sources used in industrial devices and applications. Through its Alternative Technologies Initiative, the Agency has been working with industry since 2001 to identify non-nuclear substitutes.
The following principles guide EPA’s Alternative Technologies Initiative:
- We pursue source reduction as the option of first choice in reducing unnecessary exposure to radioactive materials.
- We take a whole system, life-cycle approach
- We build partnerships inside and outside EPA and with government and industry to reduce the potential of unnecessary exposure to radiation
The first step is to identify substitutes that are technically and economically advantageous. During this process, EPA takes into account the human health and environmental effects of each potential technology's entire life-cycle to ensure minimum impact from the final selection. (See Product Stewardship) Once a technology is selected, EPA and industry work together to identify and remove barriers to its use.
On this page:
- Why is EPA concerned about the use of radionuclides?
- What are the benefits of alternative technologies to the economy?
- How can I contact the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
- Will EPA require the use of alternative technologies?
- Who is participating in the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
- What is the focus of EPA's initial research?
- What are the next steps for the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
Why is EPA concerned about the use of radionuclides?
EPA has a number of concerns about the consequences of using radionuclides in industrial devices:
- exposure from the devices themselves
- potential contamination of the environment or a facility resulting in expensive removal and/or cleanup if the source in the device is breached
- potential loss, abandonment, or mishandling of a source which then becomes mixed with scrap metal, is melted into reprocessed steel or aluminum, and contaminates consumer products made from the reprocessed metal
- potential misuse of radioisotopes in certain devices (e.g. to threaten others with exposure or to make a Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD or "dirty bomb.")
What are the benefits of alternative technologies to the economy?
Non-nuclear alternatives offer both government and end-users in industry economic and safety benefits:
- Reduce radioactivity in devices
- Lower management, recycling, and disposal costs by eliminating radioactivity
- Reduction of radioactive releases from improperly managed devices
- Prevent lost, stolen, or abandoned sealed source devices from entering the environment and requiring an emergency response
- Prevent worker exposure and costly cleanups at the end of device's useful life.
How can I contact the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
Contact us at the following address:
Alternative Technologies Initiative
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Radiation and Indoor Air
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, MC 6608J
Washington, DC 20640
Will EPA require the use of alternative technologies?
No. The Alternative Technologies Initiative is part of EPA's efforts to prevent the loss of radioactive sources. Because EPA does not have regulatory authority over the sealed sources commonly used in industrial devices, it has focused on voluntary efforts both to find and secure sources that have fallen out regulatory control and to prevent the loss of additional sources.
Who is participating in the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
EPA is working with the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) , a national non-profit organization focused on reducing the health and environmental impacts of consumer products. PSI fulfills several roles:
- bring key parties together to review project findings
- integrate input about the technical and financial feasibility of alternative gauge technologies
- help identify barriers to market acceptance of the new technologies
- recommend strategies for greater use
EPA has also established an expert panel of representatives from federal and state governments. The expert panel also fills several roles:
- consult with representatives from industry, trade associations, universities, and other groups
- provide recommendations to strengthen alternative technologies
- help identify barriers to use
- provide insights into regulations
- identify technologies and applications that should be addressed in future projects
What is the focus of EPA's initial research?
Initial research focused on three areas:
- industrial applications of sealed sources and associated risks from the activity of the source and operating conditions and environment
- identification and evaluation of alternative technologies
- identification of stakeholder attitudes, issues, and concerns.
The research revealed a number of factors that helped guide the Initiative:
In general, users would welcome non-nuclear technologies because they would eliminate licensing, training, worker safety and disposition issues associated with radiation.
Users are very concerned about the capabilities of the technologies and want their capabilities to be validated by standards bodies such as NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute).
Alternatives are very application-specific.
Although sources with large activities are inherently more hazardous, smaller activity sources used in industrial applications and environments are more susceptible to falling out of regulatory control.
Large gaps between users and the manufacturers and research institutions developing alternatives, were inhibiting the acceptance of alternatives in the market place.
What are the next steps for the Alternative Technologies Initiative?
EPA will continue to build informal partnerships around technical, application-specific projects. Priority applications include radiography cameras, fixed gauges, portable gauges, and well logging. As specific projects are developed, EPA will convene interested stakeholders and applying successful models from earlier projects.
- use of life cycle/cost-benefit analysis to compare alternative technologies against existing nuclear technology
- recognizing companies that manufacture and use alternative radiography technologies at the annual Alternative Technology Conference
- identifying and addressing implementation barriers
- evaluating metrics, such as the number conference attendees, number of alternative devices developed, adoption of alternative technologies, and data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's tracking databases.
- building on specific projects, develop communities interested in developing alternative devices. (e.g., for well logging applications through the well logging conference)
- create program visibility by attending trade shows with other organizations, such as CRCPD.