Badly packaged nuclear consignment on plane to Brussels

Passengers on flights between Cairo, Zürich and Zürich to Brussels could have been exposed to radiation without realising it. The incident happened on the 13 July when a used radioactive source destined for a company in Fleurus (Hainaut) was transported on the plane without sufficient protective packaging.

When the package arrived at NTP Radioscopes in Fleurus, the company reported what had happened to the nuclear watchdog FANC and an investigation was launched.

NTP Radioscopes produces radioactive sources that are used in, for example, industrial imaging. Last Tuesday the company received a package containing a consignment of a used iridium 192 source that had been sent from Egypt. The package had been stored in a hangar at Zaventem Airport since it had been flown over.

A member of staff’s radiometer registered excess levels of radioactivity and the nuclear watchdog FANC was brought in to investigate. It found that the source was not packaged and labelled correctly and that the package should not have been sent in that state. The sender of the package will now be contacted.

The source gave off radiation levels of 2 mSv/hour. The annual radiation exposure limit in Belgium is 1 mSv, in addition to exposure to 2.8 mSv/year natural radiation.

"Not a life-threatening dose"

As the package was transported on 2 flights FANC calculated the maximum radiation dosage passengers could have been exposed to. This is reported to be a conservative estimate as it is not known where the packed was in the planes’ cargo holds.

A FANC spokesman told VRT News that “The maximum dose to which a passenger that was sat above the package on the Cairo to Zürich flight was 6.6 mSv. This is 3.1 mSv for passengers on the Zürich-Brussels flight”.

"As regards exposure, this is between 5 and 6 times more than the limit, but people shouldn’t be alarmed. This is not a life-threatening dose.

FANC has ranked the incident as a 2 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). INES has 7 levels ranging from 1 (anomaly) to 7 (serious accident).