Radioactive materials on board ship pose unique problems not found in shore-based laboratories. It is recommended that all radioisotope work be conducted in a laboratory van set-aside exclusively for this purpose. When this is not possible, radioactive materials can be used at sea in laboratory spaces that will be shared with other researchers. Even if all radioisotope work is conducted in a dedicated van, the potential to inadvertently transport small amounts of isotopes to other areas of the vessel is greater due to the confined nature of research ships. Because of this, research ship operators and scientists have a particular obligation to assure adherence to prudent laboratory procedures; including monitoring, clean-up, and record keeping. These precautions are necessary for the protection of personnel and to ensure the integrity of measurements made by different investigators of environmental levels of natural or artificial radionuclides. In most cases, it is necessary for these programs to measure extremely low levels of ambient radioactive activity. As a result, this work is sensitive to contamination by very small amounts of radioactivity, far below levels having any public health significance. The SWAB program mentioned at the end of this chapter can provide assistance in monitoring and cleaning lab spaces.
Activity and quantity of the materials shall not exceed that authorized by the operating institution’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Byproduct Material License, or equivalent, which is monitored by that institution’s Radioisotope Users Committee, or equivalent. This committee should consist of a Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) and representatives from ship operations and the user community. Provisions of such a license usually apply to a research vessel at sea or away from homeport. The use, storage, transportation, labeling and disposal of such materials shall conform to applicable regulations of the NRC, any state agencies that have jurisdiction, and the operating institution’s procedures.
As part of the procedure for obtaining authorization to use radioisotopes at sea, the Chief Scientist must submit an application which includes information on the amount and type of isotope to be used, protocols for the experiments in which these isotopes will be used, and how radioactive waste will be stored or disposed of. The operating institution’s Radioisotope Users Committee, RSO, or equivalent, will review and authorize the proposed use of the isotope or isotopes.
Laboratory vans and other work areas designated for isotope use shall conform to minimum standards for such facilities. A properly rated (120 Linear Feet per Minute (LFM) or greater) and vented fume hood must be available for all activities for which there is a potential of airborne radioactivity. It is important to know where this fume hood exhaust exits the ship to make sure that personnel are not exposed directly or indirectly. All working surfaces must be constructed of materials that are nonporous and resistant to corrosion by seawater and radioactive solutions. A refrigerator/freezer capable of being locked must also be available for storage of isotope stocks. No food items may be stored in this appliance with appropriate signage indicating this restriction.
Regulations prohibit the disposal of liquid or solid radioactive waste into the ocean. The scientific user must provide facilities for the safe and secure storage of liquid and solid radioactive waste. The operating institution’s RSO or the science user’s RSO will approve these containers with proper certification. In order to reduce the possibility of spills, the waste containers must be located in the radiation laboratory van when one is available or in another certified safe storage van/location. The Principal Investigator (PI) assumes all responsibility for the necessary activities and costs to properly dispose of all radioactive materials at the end of the cruise.
It is essential that ship operators be informed of the intent to use radioisotopes as early in the scheduling process as possible. To this end, the following is required:
The Chief Scientist must ensure that any PI or other user of radioactive materials has been granted written authority by their home institution’s Radiation Safety Committee, RSO, or equivalent, to possess and use radioisotopes. Upon notification of funding, the PI must contact the operating institution and initiate the procedures required to obtain authorization to use radioisotopes on the assigned vessel. The RSO of the PI’s home institution must also be notified and requested to verify to the operating institution that the PI is an authorized user.
Once the PI has been authorized to use isotopes by the operating institution, the PI should notify the Chief Scientist and confirm the laboratory space or radioisotope van that will be used and restricted for isotope work. The PI will be responsible for posting the area, monitoring, clean up of spills, and ensuring that the work area is clean upon completion of the isotope work. All users must have personal dosimeters (except when using low energy beta emitters C14, H3, and S35) and work areas must be surveyed as required by the operating institution. All spills must be reported to the Chief Scientist who will immediately report them to the Master and Marine Technician. Upon completion of the cruise, the PI will report the results of all surveys and the disposition of waste, unused isotopes, and labeled samples to the Chief Scientist. The Chief Scientist must provide this information in a post cruise report to the operating institution and the funding agencies if they require it.
The responsibilities for clean up, disposal and transport of all waste and the associated costs will be borne by the PI.
Operators must require that the members of the science party using isotopes, including the PI and Chief Scientist, are familiar with NRC procedures as well as specific shipboard rules and regulations. These shipboard regulations must be specific as to the science party’s responsibility during the cruise, especially with regard to an isotope spill and the appropriate method for cleanup. These procedures can be found in the ship’s cruise planning manual or handbook and should be discussed with the Marine Technician during the cruise planning process.
Of central importance is the establishment of procedures by which a PI may be granted the authority to use radioisotopes at sea. This responsibility rests with the operating institution and its RSO. The information upon which authority is granted should include at least the following:
To ensure the safe and orderly use of radioisotopes at sea, the operating institution should also assume the following responsibilities:
The use of laboratory vans restricted for radioisotope use is strongly encouraged; i.e., all operating institutions should have access to at least one laboratory van for this purpose. Appendix C is a checklist for inspecting shipboard vans and contains a reference to the standards to be used in fabricating a van for this purpose. Using this van for other purposes; e.g., storing gear and paints, transporting spares, etc., is prohibited.
In order to ensure proper monitoring of work areas, all UNOLS vessels should be equipped with monitoring equipment such as a liquid scintillation counter, single source counter or Geiger counter with pancake probe. Personal dosimeters should be provided by the scientific user, as appropriate, for the isotopes being used.
Likewise, UNOLS institutions are encouraged to require a member of the ship’s complement (could be marine technicians) to be trained in basic radiation safety procedures. At the beginning of each cruise, this person would be responsible for briefing the crew and scientific party on the isotopes to be used, where they are to be used and stored, the disposition of wastes, and potential hazards.
Operators and PI’s should be aware of the SWAB team operated by the Tritium Lab at the University of Miami. This group will conduct tests for extremely low levels of radioactivity before and/or after a cruise. This serves as a mechanism for determining when an unreported spill has occurred. SWAB tests can be requested directly from the University of Miami. It is recommended that the scientist perform a SWAB test both immediately before and immediately after a cruise where radioisotopes are used. If logistics prevent personnel from the University of Miami performing the test, a sample collection kit and instructions can be sent to the ship for samples to be collected and returned to the University of Miami for testing. The contact information for the Tritium Lab is: Tritium Laboratory
University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, Fl 33149
Attn: Jim Happell or Charlene Grall
E-mail: Tritium (at) rsmas dot miami dot edu Phone: 305-421-4100