Safety drive to register radioactive materials

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:00am

A nationwide campaign to ensure the safe use of nuclear technology by registering all radioactive matter has been launched by the mainland's environmental watchdog.

The crackdown follows eight thefts of radioactive material this year. Environmental officials would monitor the production, import and export, sale, storage and disposal of all sources of radioactivity, working with the Health Ministry and the Public Security Ministry, said Wang Yuqing , the deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration.

In 2002, China had more than 63,700 radioactive sources, such as items used in industry - 30 per cent of which were not registered - according to official statistics. Another 20 per cent were in the form of nuclear waste that had been disposed of improperly.

Experts quoted in state media put the figure at closer to 80,000 sources. They said China had had more than 1,500 radioactive accidents in the past 50 years, an average of 30 a year. The accidents have killed at least eight people.

'Losses and the theft of radiation sources account for over 90 per cent of these accidents,' said Li Ganjie , the head of the watchdog's Nuclear Safety Department.

In most cases, radioactive sources are lost because of neglect, outdated safety procedures and loose security, especially in companies that are in financial trouble. Mr Li said that many radioactive items had been stolen and sold as steel products. He said lax investigation methods and light punishments for these crimes contributed to the number of cases.

Mr Li said about 90 per cent of cases where material had gone missing involved items in the low-radioactive category, which would not cause permanent injury or loss of life.

The watchdog will set up a database to register all radiation sources and license all owners.