NOAA/GML uses a number of low to mid-level radioactive materials to monitor trace gases and aerosols in the atmosphere. Our NOAA/ESRL and ARL Idaho Falls site license from the Nuclear Regulator Commission NRC covers the use of Nickel-63, Hydrogen-3, and Polonium-210. The current version of our NRC license is Amendment 45 of license# 05-11997-01 (expires September 30, 2037). Most of these radionuclei materials must be tested every 6 months for leakage from their sealed cells, with exceptions for stored and inactive sources, and certain low level sources. When tested and passed for no leakage ( < 0.005 microcuries), these sealed sources are extremely safe to the users and the public.
NOAA/GML has over 130 electron capture detectors (ECDs) in use worldwide from ground based stations, balloon platforms, tall towers, ocean vessels, and airborne aircraft, manned and unmanned (many are also stored as spare units and inactive). Almost all of the ECDs have Nickel-63 as a source. We have a complete safety basis for the Nickel-63 ECD custom gas chromatographs that includes the need for these sources, specifications (source strengths and manufacturers), removal of cells from their ovens, and training slides.
Every six months, the GML Radiation Safety Officer must conduct wipe tests for radioactive leakage. The typical 5-15 millicuries source must not leak more than 0.005 microcuries. Station personnel or users may be asked to perform some wipe tests. Here are the directions for conducting the wipe test.
For more information on radiation safety, please contact the GML radiation safety officer.