Clearance and Discharge of Radioactive Material
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The clearance, as well as discharge, enable a company to recycle, use or release into the environment radioactive materials with very low radioactivity levels without the need for further radiation protection monitoring. The prerequisite for this is the fulfilment of certain criteria and licensing by the radiation protection authorities.
If radioactive materials do not meet the requirements for clearance or discharge, they must be disposed of as radioactive waste.
Clearance of radioactive material
Clearance is the term used to describe the release of radioactive materials from the control of the radiation protection authority. Usually, this involves radioactive materials that are no longer required in the course of a practice (section 73 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 and sections 110 to 115 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020). This procedure is possible for material with very low levels of radioactivity. The prerequisite for this is licensing by the radiation protection authority.
Once the clearance criteria set by the competent authority are met, the materials concerned are no longer considered radioactive. From this point on, these materials do not require further radiation protection monitoring.
A distinction is made between unrestricted and restricted clearance. Decisive for this distinction are the clearance levels specified in Appendix 1 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (Section D, Table 1 for artificial radionuclides and Table 3 for naturally occurring radioactive materials).
- Unrestricted clearance: any future use of the released materials is not subject to any regulatory restrictions.
- Restricted clearance: any future use of the released materials is subject to (special) regulatory restrictions (for example, type of landfill or restrictions on types of recycling).
If no clearance levels are specified or applicable, a clearance can still take place under certain conditions. For this purpose, the company must prove to the competent authority that the dose limits specified in the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 are complied with.
Innovations with the entry into force of the new radiation protection law on 1 August 2020
The regulations for the clearance of artificial radioactive materials are largely identical to the regulations applicable to date. With regard to clearance levels, however, there are three major changes compared to the previous regulations:
- The intended clearance levels only apply to solids.
- There is now only one set of values for unrestricted release, whereby the values are identical to the release limits for large material quantities.
- There are now only limited clearance levels for disposal in landfill or incineration.
In addition to the regulations for the clearance of artificial radioactive materials, analogous regulations for the clearance of naturally occurring radioactive materials are in place since 1 August 2020. The latter is of particular importance, as very large quantities of material can accumulate in this area of practice and these can be recycled or disposed of in landfill if certain conditions are met.
Discharge of radioactive material
The discharge of liquid and gaseous radioactive substances with the wastewater or exhaust air requires an licensing by the competent authority, which in most cases is granted within the scope of the licence to carry out the practice (section 17 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020). This applies to both artificial and naturally occurring radionuclides.
Radioactive substances may only be discharged with operational wastewater or exhaust air if this does not result in any relevant radiation exposure for affected persons, such as residents (section 77 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020). This requirement is fulfilled in any case if the discharge limits specified in Appendix 2 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 are complied with.
The regulations for the discharge of radioactive substances are largely identical to the previously applicable regulations. With regard to artificial radionuclides, the discharge values have also remained unchanged. For natural radioactive substances, minor adjustments have been made to the previously applicable discharge values (incorporated in the Natürliche Strahlenquellen-Verordnung).
If it is difficult to provide metrological proof of compliance with the discharge values, the proof of compliance can also be carried out calculative.
Companies that can release radioactive materials resulting from practices instead of disposing of them as radioactive waste.
Companies that can discharge radioactive materials instead of disposing of them as radioactive waste.
For discharge and clearance procedures: the respective radiation protection licensing authority
A clearance usually requires separate official approval (section 73 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020). The application must be accompanied by the relevant documents (section 110 paragraph 3 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020) so that the authority can check whether the conditions for clearance, in particular, compliance with the limit values, are met. After receipt of the note of decision granting the clearance (administrative decision), the company must comply with the relevant regulations (section 112 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020), such as carrying out release measurements, removing existing markings and keeping records of releases carried out.
In some companies, only very small quantities of residues (a few kilograms) of naturally occurring radionuclides accumulate per year, such as removed deposits in pipes or layers of paint. If this is the case, companies can apply to the authorities for direct disposal as radioactive waste instead of carrying out a clearance procedure (section 115 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020).
- Section 73 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 (Radiation Protection Act 2020) and sections 110 to 115 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020)
- Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020), Appendix 1, Section D, Table 1, columns 4–6 (artificial radionuclides) and Table 3, columns 2–3 (naturally occurring radioactive materials)
- Section 77 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020) and Appendix 2 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020)
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