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Radioactive sources

Safe use of radioactive sources on site

Radioactive sources are used in oil and gas exploration, but are also extensively used throughout many other industries, including the NHS, paper and steel manufacturing, food irradiation, medical sterilisation and the construction industry.

Nuclear well logging tools are robustly built with almost no chance of radioactivity release under normal oilfield operations and stringent regulatory requirements are imposed on the transport, storage, handling and eventual disposal of chemical radioactive sources.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines, European Union protocols, and national regulatory bodies prescribe standards for the handling of all radioactive sources [IAEA, 2003a; IAEA, 2004; IAEA, 2005; EU, 2009; NRC, 1987; NRC, 1991] to ensure their safe use. The use of ionising radioactive sources in the UK is strictly controlled by the UK radiological regulatory framework, which includes the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 enforced by HSE, as well as other legislation enforced by the environmental regulators, Department of Health, and the Office of Nuclear Regulation, all of which have programmes of inspection in place to ensure compliance. Strict security and safety procedures are used for storing these tools and special shielded containers are used for transporting sources. Only authorised personnel following specific rules can access sources of this nature.

In almost all cases nuclear logging tools are owned and operated by oil and gas service companies, who are licensed to use the equipment. Operators would commission service companies to undertake well logging as and when their operations require their use. The use of such sources by appropriately trained personnel in accordance with the prescribed standards will not result in any risk to public health.

Further information on ionising radiation can be found on the ionising radiation site.

Radon risks from oil and gas wells

The risk of a build-up of radon from an oil or gas well is well understood by the industry and a suitable assessment of the risk and how that risk will be managed should be developed by the well operator. Where radon is encountered the well operator is required to take suitable measures to prevent a build-up of radon in particular areas on the site. Outdoor workplaces are unlikely to be affected as harmful concentrations of radon cannot form in air.

Radon risks in the workplace

Information available from HSE.

Information from Public Health England, the UK’s primary experts on radon.