Radiation control sought to ward off health hazards
About 2,000 sources of radiation scattered across China, or 0.025 per cent of the total, are not completely under control, according to specialists in the field.
But Li Ganjie, head of the management department for nuclear safety and radioactivity under the State Environmental Protection Administration, said most of the sources are at level four or five, which are not so dangerous.
A majority of the sources of radiation in use in China are at the four and five level.
Radiation sources are classified in five levels, with level one being the most dangerous and level five being the least dangerous.
Sources at level four and five do not cause permanent harm to people, but long-time and close contact with level four sources can lead to temporary but reparable harm.
More than 63,000 radiation sources across the country are used by more than 8,300 organizations and companies, statistics show. And there are about 13,800 abandoned sources that need to be controlled.
Experts think at least 2,000 sources are not controlled.
Nearly 20 to 30 per cent of the radiation sources in China are used in the medical and healthcare field and 70 to 80 per cent are spread through dozens of fields such as agriculture, scientific research and mine exploitation, Li said.
Li said if people find suspect radiation sources, it would be better that they are not touched and distance kept from them.
He said people finding such sources report to local environmental authorities about their findings.
A nationwide check of radiation sources was launched Monday to provide clear data about their sites, to impose safe control on abandoned sources and to ward off radioactive pollution.
The six-month strategy, being jointly carried out by Li's administration and the ministries of public security and health, includes registration of radiation sources and control of abandoned ones.
According to Wang Yuqing, vice-minister of the administration, environmental protection authorities will next year adopt a qualification licensing system for organizations or companies that produce, export and import, sell, use, transport, store and dispose of radiation sources.
They will also identify each newly produced or in-use radiation source with a code, which will remain unchanged.
Wang said the country would also invest in building and improving radioactive waste storerooms during the next two years so that there would be one storeroom in each province. Currently only 25 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities have such storerooms.
According to Li, more than 1,500 accidents involving radioactivity have occurred in the country since 1954. In four of those there were eight deaths.
The most recent fatal accident occurred in October 1992, in Xinzhou, North China's Shanxi Province, said Zhou Qifu, an official with the nuclear safety centre under the administration.
The accident killed a construction worker, who picked up a radiation source at his construction site and took it home. The worker's father and brother also died.
One of the major reasons for the fatal accident was that the worker was unknowing about the source and local medical workers treating him did not know about radiation-caused symptoms, Zhou said.
In recent years many radioactivity-related accidents have been caused by loss and theft of sources.
Zhou attributed this to a lack of safety awareness among radiation source users and also imperfect management of the sources.
Eighty to 90 per cent of people who steal radiation sources want the lead shields, which they can sell to get money, he said.