Radioactivity has always been a health hazard at work places and research laboratories. This became evident since its discovery by Marie Curie and others, whose very deaths were caused by exposure to radiation. This article analyses the precautions necessary when assembling and analyzing neutron generators.
Radioactivity is the spontaneous emission of energy from unstable atoms, such as the metal atoms used in the neutron generator, in order to become stable. The neutron generator uses americium-243 isotope, which is generally a health hazard only if it is taken into the body as its decay emits alpha particles. Furthermore, there is also a small risk associated with the gamma rays emitted by neptunium-239, a radioactive decay product of americium-243. The main means of exposure are ingestion of food and water containing americium isotopes and inhalation of americium-contaminated dust.
Ingestion is generally the exposure of concern unless there is a nearby source of contaminated airborne dust. Because americium is taken up in the body much more readily if inhaled rather than ingested, both exposure routes can be important. The major health concern is tumors resulting from the ionizing radiation emitted by americium isotopes deposited on bone surfaces and in the liver. Hence, precaution must be undertaken when assembling and using neutron generators that involve the use of these radioactive isotopes (Argonne National Laboratory, 2005).
[...] Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should always be worn. These depend on the kind of radiation the personnel maybe exposed to. Alpha and beta radiation do not require highly protective PPE when used with barriers or inside the cave. However, gamma or X-ray radiation still requires protective PPE because they are highly penetrative. As in standard operating procedures for protection from chemicals, usual PPE such as Latex or surgical disposable gloves, safety glasses, covered footwear and lab coats must also be worn when handling radioactive isotopes. [...]
[...] So in relation to this generator, if it is necessary to drain the water inside the barrel a spill kit, gloves, and eye protection must be on hand and only those who have undergone Radiation Contamination Training (RCT) should carry out the work. Sealable containers of adequate size to contain the drained fluids must be present before maintenance begins. If the drained liquids are to be disposed they must be labeled as radioactive waste. The organic solvents (acetone, benzene, alcohol, n-hexane, etc.) used in cleaning the neutron generator components are flammable so caution has to be exercised when using them. In the case of an accidental fire in the neutron generator hall use carbon dioxide fire extinguishers. [...]
[...] The issue should then be brought up with the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) in-charge. Wipe tests to check for the presence of any other radioactive material on the working surfaces of the neutron generator room or on the concrete walls of the equipment cave should always be carried out before using of the equipment. While handling the equipment or any material such as the aluminum disk to be inserted and others, smoking, eating, chewing or drinking is not allowed. The same warning applies to tester storage areas where smoking, eating, chewing or drinking is not authorized. [...]
[...] It should be maintained, checked and assembled correctly, prior to usage of the neutron generator. It consists of three layers: Concrete shield block walls and ceiling around the whole neutron generator equipment resulting in something like a cave. The walls and ceiling are constructed from standard concrete shield blocks and constitute the primary control against prompt radiation from the source to reduce exposure. A small hole has to be left open as the entrance for insertion of the aluminum disk by the experimenter who stands with the protection of the concrete walls. [...]
[...] (International Atomic Energy Agency, 1996; Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, 2002) Precautions when using the neutron generator: During the operation of neutron generators, a certain amount of radioactive waste will always be accumulated and disposal must be in accordance with the regulations and in the appropriate marked and labeled containers. The waste containers should be marked with the radiation sign and ‘Radioactive waste' label. Only trained operators who are under the direction of the RSO and are trained in Safe handling of radioactive materials shall use the equipment. All of these operators must have passed the Radiation safety test of the organization the neutron generator is available. [...]
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