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Frequently Asked Questions

regarding radiation use and safety

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Q - I would like to use radioactive materials in my lab. What do I need to do?

  • A - In order to use radioactive materials at NMSU, your laboratory will need a radiation permit. Faculty members wishing to obtain a campus radiation permit should contact the NMSU campus Radiation Safety Officer (RSO), Katrina Doolittle (kadoolit @, for information on permitting and other requirements.  For more information please review the Radation Safety Manual (printed version distributed to rad permittees) and Chapter 4, Rad Safety, in the Lab Safety Guide.

    Q - What guides are there for radiation at NMSU?

  • For guidance on using radioactve materials and equipment that generates radiation, please review the 2005 revision of the  Radiation Safety Manual (distributed to rad permittee) and  Chapter 4, Rad Safety, in the Lab Safety Guide. You can also contact the NMSU campus Radiation Safety Officer (RSO), Katrina Doolittle (kadoolit @

    Q - Do you offer classes on radiation regulations and usage?

  • A -Yes there are several classes on radiation use. Please check the description and schedule for radiation classes.  

    Q - How do I order radioactive materials?

  • A -When ordering radioactive materials: Check your radiation permit. Ensure that you are authorized to possess the radioisotope that you are ordering and also ensure that the amount of activity you are ordering will not cause your laboratory to exceed its possession limit of that radioisotope. If you need to  increase your possession limit(s), contact the RSO. Information that must be included on the request includes isotope, total activity and name of permittee. All radioactive materials must be shipped according to DOT regulations.  Depending on the isotope, additional precautions or locations may apply.   For more information please see the Radation Safety Manual (Chapter 8)  or check with the RSO.

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    Q - How do I dispose of radioactive waste?

  • A Guidelines for disposal of solid, liquid and animal carcass radioactive waste can be found in the NMSU Radiation Safety Manual (Chapter 13).

    Q - When will my radioactive waste be picked up?

  • A -To request pickup of radioactive waste, prepare the waste according to the instructions on the NMSU Radiation Safety Manual, then call Environmental Health and Safety (646-3327) to request a pickup.   

    Q - My geiger counter/survey instrument isn't working or is acting funny. What should I do?

  • A -If your geiger counter/survey instrument isn't working or is acting strangely, try the following:
    1. Replace the batteries in the meter.
    2. Check to see if the speaker is turned on.
    3. Check to ensure that the window of the probe is intact and unbroken.
    4. Disconnect, then reconnect the cable from the probe to the meter.
    5. If it still doesn't work, contact one of the NMED-approved venders for repair.

    Q - What/who are the NMED-approved radiation equipment service vendors?

  • A. Under NM Environmental Department, certain radiation equipment must be repaired, calibrated and tested by a vendor from the NMED-approved vendor list (see radiaton services under internet resources).

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    Q - What is the proper procedure for closing out a laboratory if it is being moved/vacated?

  • A -When moving/vacating a radioisotope laboratory, listed on your permit:
    • 1) Notify the RSO
    • 2) Read the Rad Safety Manual policy regarding decommissioning of equipment and facilities.
    • 3) Transfer unused radioactive material to permittees authorized for the isotope(s). Contact RSO prior to transfer.
    • 4) Alternately, prepare radioactive waste for disposal and request pickup.
    • 5) Survey for radioactive contamination. Decontaminate if necessary.
    • 6) Remove or deface all radiation symbols inside the laboratory.
    • 7) Contact the RSO to schedule a final survey and closeout.
    • For more information please see the Radation Safety Manual (Chapter 15).

    Q -- What is the procedure for transferring radioisotopes between researchers?

  • A -To transfer radioisotopes to another researcher, consult the Transfer of Radioisotopes section of the Radiation Safety Manual.  Also ensure that the research is permitted for that isotope.

    Q - Who is required to attend Radiation Safety training?

  • A -Each individual working in, or frequenting a radioactive material use area at NMSU should be provided information on any potential radiation hazards present in the area. Each authorized Principal Investigator is responsible for training the individuals working in his/her laboratory. EH&S assists Principal Investigators by providing formal training on the NMSU radiation safety program. Individuals should not work with radioactive materials until they have attended a Radiation Safety Class, presented by EH&S. These classes are offered each month.

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    Q - What are the commonly used radioactive materials at NMSU?

  • A -NMSU has a Broad Scope License from the New Mexico Environmental Department .  This allows researchers at NMSU to use different radionuclides. However, the vast majority of the radioactive material used at NMSU involves low energy beta emitters used for bio-medical research. These include Tritium and Carbon-14. Other beta emitters, P-32 and P-33, are also commonly used. In addition, uranium, which has a complex decay scheme, is routinely used by some research groups at NMSU.

    Q - Can I work with radiation producing equipment or radioactive material if I am pregnant?

  • A -Generally, yes. The vast majority of work performed at NMSU with radioactive materials can continue without modification during pregnancy.
  • Once a person officially informs her employer in writing of her pregnancy, new dose limits apply and the person must obtain a second dosimeter. This second badge is worn at the waist to monitor the exposure to the unborn child. Regulations require that the dose for the 9 months of pregnancy must not exceed 500 mRem. Safety personnel can review your prior exposure history and your current projects that involve the use of radioactive materials or radiation producing equipment. This will provide an estimate of the likely exposure that may be received during the duration of pregnancy. This review may also result in suggestions to further reduce your exposure to radiation. Because the fetus is sensitive to radioiodine, the RSO may suggest that you not perform iodinations during your pregnancy. Because of the increased sensitivity of the fetus, the RSO may suggest you limit your use of some very large sealed sources of radioactive material.

    Q - Is there a limit to the amount of radioactive material that can be stored in the laboratory at one time?

  • A -Yes. When a Principal Investigator is granted approval to use radioactive material by the NMSU Radiation Safety Committee, certain limits are authorized. The maximum amount allowed to be in the possession of one principal investigator at one time is stated on the permit.This total, including waste and experiments in progress in the labs, must not exceed the authorization limits. See your individual PI or the RSO for information about the specific limits in your research group.Contact the RSO if you need your limits changed.

    Q - What is ALARA?

  • A -ALARA is a philosophy of excellence used in one's day-to-day work with radioactive materials. It is when one strives to keep one's radiation exposure As Low As Reasonably Achievable. Some, often easy, changes in procedures can greatly reduce one's radiation exposure. The ALARA philosophy encourages one to actively seek out these methods of exposure reduction.  For more information please see the Radation Safety Manual.

    Q - Does lab equipment require decontamination prior to disposal, repair or servicing?

  • A -Yes, there are strict controls on the disposal of radioactive material. Equipment for disposal must be surveyed by members of EH&S prior to release for disposal. For broken equipment that has been used with radioactive material, a RSO release survey must be completed prior to allowing NMSU repair persons or outside vendors to service the equipment.   

    Q - What types of x-ray equipment are present?

  • A -NMSU has medical, dental, teaching, and research x-ray equipment. The specific types of x-ray equipment may be designed to image human patients, animals, viruses, minerals, and a number of other purposes.
  • NMSU has medical, x-ray equipment used under the direction of a physician for diagnostic purposes. For example, the medical x-ray equipment is surveyed and calibrated on a annual basis. This equipment can only be operated by a trained person who is licensed with the State.  All University owned x-ray equipment used for clinical reasons (i.e. x-ray examinations on humans) is inspected to insure proper functioning.  Only properly trained, certified personnel may expose humans using medical x-ray equipment.
  • Other x-ray equipment may include x-ray diffraction and fluorescence units.  In some cases, personnel dosimeters are required for personnel using x-ray equipment. Safe use of the equipment requires proper equipment use training.
  • EH&S should be notified as soon as any purchase of x-ray equipment is planned so that shielding and other safety requirements can be determined. X-ray equipment must be registered with the State of New Mexico and permitted by the RSO. Any fees are the responsibility of the Principal Investigator.
  • X-ray diffraction (XRD) units can have very high dose rate x-ray beams but they are carefully shielded. After appropriate, specific training, persons working at NMSU may be allowed to use XRD units under the supervision of a Principal Investigator.  

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