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USyd fined for radiation control breach

The breach related to improper disposal of a PET scanner in 2019.

Art by Thomas Sargeant.

The University of Sydney has pleaded guilty to two offences relating to the Radiation Control Act 1990 and the Radiation Control Regulation 2013 following the improper disposal of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner. 

The University engaged a contractor to dispose of the scanner, which contained a sealed radioactive caesium-137 source, without approval from the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The company which transported the scanner did not have the required licence to possess it.

It is understood that the PET Scanner used to be stored at USyd’s Brain and Mind Centre between 2007 until 2019 when the machine was removed from the building. After falling into redundancy since its last use in 2013, the equipment was dismantled and discarded by the University.

Subsequently, staff members at the scrap metal facility where the scanner rested measured that a component was emitting 734 microsieverts (μSv) per hour —  far exceeding the 1000 μSv per year public exposure limit under the law. 

To put this amount of radiation in context, a dose of 734 μSv is less than a single CT scan, and is approximately equivalent to half the average annual exposure to natural background radiation in Australia.

The breach did not harm any people or the environment as the radioactive source remained contained and was detected. 

The University was ordered to pay a fine of $61,000, legal costs to the EPA, and to publish a notice describing the incident in the Sydney Morning Herald, in The Australasian Radiation Protection Society Newsletter, and on the University’s Facebook page.

In a statement, USyd said that the case is now resolved: “There is no suggestion [that] the offences were intentional or caused by negligence or recklessness”.