Educational Sources

exempt radioactive sources

Guidance for the Use of Small

Quantities of Radioactive Materials  

November 2022


Teachers and University Professors may wish to use radioactive sources as aids to teach students about radioactivity and radiation. IBI Labs provides sources for use in education programs. Unless a school has a specific radioactive materials license, schools can only possess radioactive materials that are exempt from Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Agreement State regulations.

Quantity Radioactive Sources

For teaching purposes, sealed sources, natural radioactivity (potassium, radon, pitchblende, etc.), and consumer products (lantern mantles, Fiestaware, thoriated welding rods, etc.) may be used. All these sources produce minimal radiation dose and, when handled properly, do not pose a risk of contamination.

General Handling Procedures

Although the radiation from exempt quantity sources is not hazardous, the basic principle of minimizing radiation dose should be followed:

  1. No eating, drinking, or applying cosmetics while handling the sources.
  2. Do not hold sources unless necessary.
  3. Only hold edges of disk. Avoid touching the unlabeled flat side of disk.
  4. Place sources away from living organisms with labeling facing up when not in use.
  5. Wash hands after handling sources.
  6. Sources must be accounted for. Take an inventory before and after each class period.
  7. Sources must be locked up at the end of each day.

When the sources are used by a class, stress to the class that these sources, although not hazardous, should be handled with respect. Students should not put any sources in their pockets or hold them in their hands when not necessary. See Attachment B for precautions, disposal concerns, and a summary of necessary actions.

IBI Labs is a scientific organization whose mission is excellence in the science and practice of radiation safety.

Guidance for the Use of Exempt Quantities of Radioactive Materials in the Secondary School

Attachment A

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Definition of Exempt Quantities (from the Introduction to Exempt Consumer Product Uses, NRC 10 CFR 30):

Consumer products containing byproduct material that are used by the general public are exempted from licensing requirements only if the Commission determines that the products or types of uses do not constitute an unreasonable risk to the common defense or security or to public health and safety and the environment. Radiation-safety features are built into the sealed source or device, or the amount of radioactive material that can initially be distributed in such a device is restricted. The Rules of General Applicability to Domestic Licensing of Byproduct Material (10 CFR Part 30) exempts members of the public from the requirements for an NRC license when they receive, possess, use, transfer, own, or acquire byproduct material in products such as silicon chips, electron tubes, check sources, gun sights, and smoke detectors. NRC applies its regulatory control on the transfer of these products, placing specific requirements on distributions, as defined in Subpart A, 10 CFR Part 32.

Generally, distribution of byproduct material to persons exempt from regulatory authority (the general public) can only be made by persons who have a specific license from the Commission authorizing the distribution of their products to persons exempt from the requirements for an NRC license. Manufacturers and distributors of these products must be licensed in order to initially transfer or distribute them to persons exempt from licensing. The licensed distributor is required to satisfy the Commission that all products are manufactured, tested, and distributed in accordance with the regulations and specifications provided in its license application.

Normal Radiation Exposure

Radiation has the potential to affect the health of those exposed to it. Health effects only occur from very large doses of radiation. The radiation doses received from the use of exempt quantities of radioactive materials are extremely low compared to the doses that cause adverse health effects. It is safe for teachers and students to handle these sources. The dose from handling the sources is much less than the radiation we are exposed to from natural back-ground radiation in one day.

Attachment B

Precautions for Sealed Sources

Gamma: These sources are quite rugged, so gamma sources can be handled with minimum regard to safety.

Beta: These sources require a bit more care than gamma sources. They should be picked up by the sides; i.e., do not put a finger on the top of the source. Although the cover should be sturdy enough to protect the source from handling damage, very sharp fingernails could penetrate the cover. To minimize dose, a beta source can be placed up-side down on the table when not in use.

Alpha: Because alpha radiation is absorbed by a thin layer of material (a piece of paper or a dead layer of skin stops alpha radiation), these sources have the radioactive material electroplated to a metal surface.


Radioactive material decays away with a characteristic half-life. Therefore, some sources lose enough of their radio-activity that they become useless for teaching demonstrations. If you have borrowed sources from somebody, the owner will handle the disposal when the source becomes invaluable for any purpose. If you own an exempt quantity source that has become useless, you may dispose of it in the regular trash. You must remove labels and other identifying marks prior to disposal to avoid any confusion if found by someone else.

Summary of Necessary Actions for Exempt Sources

  • Obtain concurrence for use of radioactive sources from supervision.
  • Provide a copy of “General Handling Procedures” to students.
  • Handle all sources with care: Pick up sources by the sides with forceps, do not touch the bottom of alpha and beta sources and place sources “label side up” when not in use.
  • Lock up all sources when not in use.
  • Take an inventory after every class and at the end of each semester.

The following kits are not considered Exempt Sources and require a specific license.

US Sales Status Type Item Description
Approved Inventory Part ES-100 Radioactive Source Kit Ra-226 5uC, Sr-90 1uC, Pu-239 0.1uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 200 Radioactive Source Kit Ra-226 5uC (alpha, beta, gamma)
Approved Inventory Part ES 300 Radioactive Source Kit Sr-90 5uC (beta)
Approved Inventory Part ES 400 Radioactive Source Kit Co-60 5uC (gamma)
Approved Inventory Part ES 500 Radioactive Source Kit 3 x Ra-226 5uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 600 Radioactive Source Kit Pu-239 5uC (alpha)
Approved Inventory Part ES 700 Radioactive Source Kit Co-60 5.0 uC, Ra-5.0 uC, Am-241 0.125 uC, Sr-90 5.0 uC, Sr-90 0.125uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 800 Radioactive Source Kit Sr-90 5uC, Am-241 5uC, Co-60 5uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 900 Radioactive Source Kit Co-60 5.0uC, Am-241 0.125uC, Sr-90 0.125uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 1000 Radioactive Source Kit Co-60 5uC, Sr-90 1uC Pu-239 0.1uC
Approved Inventory Part ES 1100 Radioactive Source Kit Am-241 5uC (alpha and gamma)

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