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Office of Homeland Security (OHS)
Radiation Safety Division (RSD)
United States Department of Agriculture

Radiation Safety Program Background


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates the possession and use of radioactive material in the United States. It does this by issuing licenses directly to individuals or organizations, or else it authorizes and reviews state programs that issue similar state licenses (agreement states).  For Federal agencies such as USDA, the NRC licensing authority supersedes state authority.  The USDA has two NRC licenses that operate for all of USDA to possess and use radioactive material. In addition to radioactive materials licensed by the NRC, the USDA radiation safety program also includes the use of naturally occurring and accelerator produced radioactive materials, and x-ray producing equipment.



The NRC license specifies that USDA have a Radiation Safety Committee (RSC). The RSC meets quarterly and determines USDA policy regarding radiation safety matters. The Radiation Safety Division (RSD) is the operational radiation safety office for all of USDA that works through the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), to implement the policies of the RSC. RSD seeks to implement a program that protects USDA employees and the public from the harmful effects of radiation, and to assure compliance with applicable regulations. The RSD issues Radiation Use Permits to USDA employees and inspects Permit Holder locations. RSD also provides advice and assistance in USDA's role in the Federal response to radiological emergencies through OHS and through agency emergency response offices. RSD additionally provides assistance resolving employee problems or questions regarding radiation safety.


Radiation Sources in USDA

In USDA, unsealed isotopes are used as radio-chemical laboratory research tools. Portable nuclear gauges are used to make water measurements in soil and are used in road and dam construction, to measure soil compaction. Irradiators, which emit intense gamma radiation, are used to irradiate a variety of samples for a variety of purposes, including insect sterilization and control programs. Electron capture detectors are used as a component of gas chromatographs in research labs. X-ray fluorescence analyzers are used in the field to verify the presence or absence of hazardous materials, such as lead in paint. X-ray producing equipment is used for a wide variety of purposes.


What is Not Regulated

The USDA radiation safety program does not include non-ionizing radiation sources such as lasers, microwave ovens, or ultrasound or other kinds of electronic equipment. It also does not cover electron microscopes. Commercially available products containing radioactive materials that are exempt from NRC regulations, such as static eliminators or smoke detectors, are also not included in the USDA radiation safety program.