Which Factors Matter the Most When Selecting a Radiation Training System?

And How
Hands-On Scenarios Can Enhance Radiological Survey Training?

By Steven Pike - Managing Director

Argon Electronics
































Photo courtesy: Argon Electronics

The first half of the twentieth century represented a period of major advancement in the harnessing of nuclear science and technology, which in turn fueled the urgency to safely utilize, manage and contain these powerful radiological materials.


Different types of radiation possess varying amounts of energy, with gamma rays being by far the most penetrating. The ability with which personnel are able to accurately localize and detect a gamma radiation hazard is therefore crucial in reducing the risk of harmful health effects caused by exposure.


Portable hand-held radiation survey meters have a wide variety of applications in detecting gamma radiation - from their use in defense, law enforcement and emergency first response to border control, nuclear medicine and non-destructive testing. Similarly, their simulator detector equivalents can play a considerable role in facilitating the training and education of CBRNe, HazMat and radiation protection personnel. 

Creating Realistic Training Experiences


Wherever possible, radiation safety training exercises should be able to recreate the uniquely demanding characteristics of the potential incidents that may be encountered–be it a radionuclide spill, a damaged source containment, a radiological dispersal device or a major reactor release.Ideally too, these scenarios should include the hands-on use of the instrumentation that will be deployed in a live incident.


Safe Radiation Training


What is especially important from a radiation safety training perspective is that students are afforded the opportunity to experience and recognize the significance of key factors, such as shielding and inverse square law. Trainees need to understand the ways in which their readings will change as they approach a source, and which in turn will inform how far they will need to go (and how quickly they will need to move) in order to keep themselves and those around them safe.


Whilst realistic hands-on training is always preferable, integrating the use of actual radiation detection equipment in radiation training exercises is only very rarely a viable option. First, there is the issue that a real radiation detector is only able to respond to the presence of an actual live source. Lower levels of a live radionuclide may be insufficient to deliver meaningful readingsm whilst higher levels of radioactive sources have inherent safety considerations.


Second, even in locations where the use of quantities of radionuclides is permissible for training purposes, strict regulatory and administrative controls can make the cost of carrying out such exercises prohibitively expensive.


Third, there is the very real issue of the sheer amount of time that is required to not only prepare and implement these live-source training exercises, but to make an area safe once an exercise has come to an end.



Assessing Simulator Detector Technology


When working with any type of live radioactive source simply isn't practical, the use of simulator radiation detector equipment can provide a compelling and authentic alternative. In selecting the correct simulator instrumentation however, the quality, fidelity and consistency of the simulation will be vital in ensuring that both the trainee and trainer have confidence in the readings that are obtained.


In particular, the technology that underpins the design of a simulator detector will be pivotal.

Some of the common techniques that are used in gamma simulation for example can lead to fluctuations in the readings obtained – even in situations where the source remains stationary and the environment remains the same.


When using radio waves alone, as has been standard, one of the difficulties to overcome is that there can be fluctuations in the radio wave (due to multipath reflections) which in turn impact the indication that the student sees in the simulation. Certain forms of ultrasound simulation enable personnel to monitor the strength of the signal and to calibrate it, so as the ultrasound signal increases it is possible to correlate a simulated radiation reading.But while this method can work well in open spaces, the manner in which the simulator is implemented can sometimes mean that there is an unwanted directional response.


The human body can also have an impact when using ultrasound simulation methods – for example, when an individual is standing between the simulated source and the simulator detector – which can result in a noticeable reduction in the signal.

There are, however, new simulator technologies, such as that used in Argon's RadEye simulator, that are able to more realistically simulate the tissue loss that occurs as the result of exposure to gamma radiation source, which in turn provides a higher quality simulation.


Whatever the environment, it is vital that personnel are trained to use their radiation detector equipment with confidence, that they understand the significance of the readings they obtain and that they are able to take appropriate responsive action. Simulator detectors have a vital role to play in cementing this understanding. But in selecting the best tools for the job it is important to scrutinize the technology that underpins the instrumentation – and the likely effect that this will have on the fidelity, quality and consistency of the readings obtained.



Radiological Surveying


Radiological surveying is an integral task in maintaining safety wherever certain quantities of ionizing radiation are in use, or where they are suspected to be present.

Whether it is in the context of a military operation, emergency first response or an industrial setting, radiation safety personnel need to be equipped with the right tools to ensure they can accurately assess their environment and determine the best course of action. Most radiological survey instruments have been designed to be easy to deploy, but it is important to be competent not just in the hands-on operation of the equipment but in being able to interpret the readings that are obtained and decide upon the appropriate recommendations to ensure safety is not compromised.Once it has been established that the radiation hazard originates from a sealed source – meaning that there is no contamination risk – the principles of time, distance and shielding are vital.


Whenever possible, trainees should be provided with the opportunity to explore and test these principles in hands-on training scenarios that replicate real-life situations. By adding the use of simulator detector equipment, there is also an opportunity for trainees to fully experience the characteristics, the behavior and the risks of ionizing radiation – and to do so in a learning environment that is safe, immersive and highly realistic.



Simulator Considerations


The flexible and high-fidelity nature of well-designed simulator detectors makes it possible for trainers to create a virtually unlimited range of realistic training scenarios for their students.BelowIexplore how the key principles of radiation safety can be put to the test in a range of hands-on scenarios.


1. Time


Radiation safety hinges on the understanding of the correlation between dose (or exposure) and dose rate (or the radiation present in the atmosphere), both directly related to time. When the time (or the duration of exposure) is reduced by half, for example, the dose received will also be halved.

Once the trainee has been able to assess the dose rate present in the atmosphere, this information can be used to calculate their incident stay time in the hot zone (calculated as Exposure Limit divided by Dose Rate), which will allow them to carry out their activities as quickly and as safely as possible.


Distance – or how close an individual is to a radiological point source – is a key factor in enabling trainees to control exposure. When the distance between the individual and the point source is doubled, this will reduce personal exposure by 75%, according to the rules of the Inverse Square Law. How close it will be possible to get to a source of radiation without high exposure will depend on the energy of the radiation and the activity of the source.

Distance is a prime concern with gamma rays, as they travel at the speed of light. Alpha particles, meanwhile, travel just a few inches in the air, while beta particles can travel several feet – meaning that once an operator backs out of the affected area (and assuming that the material is not being spread by wind, rain or other forces) the trainee is no longer at risk. 


2. Distance


Distance – or how close an individual is to a radiological point source – is a key factor in enabling trainees to control exposure. When the distance between the individual and the point source is doubled, this will reduce personal exposure by 75%, according to the rules of the Inverse Square Law. How close it will be possible to get to a source of radiation without high exposure will depend on the energy of the radiation and the activity of the source.

Distance is a prime concern with gamma rays, as they travel at the speed of light. Alpha particles, meanwhile, travel just a few inches in the air, while beta particles can travel several feet – meaning that once an operator backs out of the affected area (and assuming that the material is not being spread by wind, rain or other forces) the trainee is no longer at risk. 


3. Shielding


Radiation shielding is another vital skill that be put to the test during radiation training exercises.

Shielding is based on the principle of attenuation - or the extent to which a barrier can be used to block or bounce a radio wave. Which radioactive shielding material will be best suited to the task, will depend on the penetration of the dose.


Alpha particles, for example, can be stopped by shielding that is as thin as a sheet of paper – while beta radiation requires something much heavier, such as an inch of wood or a thick piece of aluminum.

The highly penetrating nature of gamma radiation requires far denser shielding – ideally several inches of concrete or lead.


4. Establishing hazard perimeters


The readings obtained from portable survey meters provide essential information to enable personnel to establish operational control zones or hazard perimeters.

The ability to control (and operate within) a hazard perimeter will rely on a trainee's proficiency in the following skills:

  • Understanding the physical considerations of the scene – for example, being able to assess the nature and severity of the radiation incident, identifying the presence of other co-existing threats, and protecting critical infrastructure.
  • Using existing topography (roads, structures etc.) to enforce the perimeter and to aid in the protection and gathering of forensic evidence



Portable radiological survey meters provide radiation protection officers, first responders and CBRNe teams with the vital information they need to detect and measure external ionizing radiation fields.

Understanding the principles of time, distance and shielding, and having the opportunity to put this knowledge to the test in realistic training scenarios, will be vital in ensuring that radiation safety personnel are able to carry out their duties safely, efficiently and effectively.