Safety Services


What is Ionising Radiation?

Ionising radiation has significant benefits but it can present a health hazard if used improperly. It is strictly regulated and controlled by UCL.

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​What is ionising radiation?

Ionising radiation occurs as either electromagnetic rays, such as X-rays and gamma rays or particles, such as alpha and beta particles. It occurs naturally but can also be produced artificially, such as by an X-ray machine.

​Ionising radiation has significant benefits in academic research and industrial applications as well as medical research and treatment. However, radiation can present a health hazard if used improperly. Because of these risks to health, the use of radioactive materials and equipment capable of producing ionising radiation is strictly regulated. ​

The law and ionising radiation

There is a raft of UK legislation that applies to working with ionising radiations. Typically, the following three regulations apply to work at UCL. 

  • ​Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017: IRR covers the use of all ionising radiations, including radioactive material and equipment capable of producing ionising radiation – such as X-ray equipment. The intention of these regulations is to protect persons working with ionising radiation as well as others (including members of the public) that may be affected by work with ionising radiation. ​
  • ​Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016: The main objectives of these regulations are to establish and maintain control over the keeping, use and security of radioactive materials as well as ensuring the accumulation and disposal of radioactive waste are managed effectively to limit radiological impact on the general public and the environment.  ​

    UCL radioactive permits​

    UCL has permits to purchase, store, use and dispose of radioactive material. Any breaches of the conditions and limitations of these permits could have serious repercussions for the organisation. These permits are held by Safety Services and departments are apportioned an allocation of the permit limits (in the form of an Allocation Certificate) based on their requirements. ​

  • Nuclear Safeguards (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004: These regulations cover the use, disposal and recording of Nuclear Materials (commonly uranium, thorium and plutonium) and the reporting of research projects relating to the nuclear fuel cycle. ​

​Other regulations may also apply in certain circumstances, for example, the Carriage of Dangerous Goods applies to the transport of radioactive material and the Ionising Radiations (Medical Exposure) Regulations (IRMER) applies to medical ionising radiation exposures.

Radiation project approval process

Departments must obtain approval via the Radiation Project Approval Process before starting any projects involving radiation. This includes the following:

  • Using any area for work with radiation
  • Storage of radioactive materials or waste
  • Purchasing of sealed sources
  • Purchasing of X-ray equipment

Last updated: Tuesday, April 5, 2022