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Environmental Health and Safety

Radiation Safety

Radioactive Materials and Radiation-Producing Equipment

Research and educational activities that involve radioactive materials and/or equipment that produces ionizing radiation are conducted at American University within the allowances of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, license number 08-08371-06. 

Questions about the acquisition or use of radioactive materials, radiation-producing equipment, or the Radiation Safety Plan should be directed to the Radiation Safety Officer, whose contact information can be found at the bottom of this page.

Tritium Fact Sheet

Tritium safety fact sheet

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Carbon-14 Fact Sheet

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Iodine-125 Fact Sheet

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Phosphorus-32 Fact Sheet

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Sulfur-35 Fact Sheet

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Phosphorus-33 Fact Sheet

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does American University hold a radioactive materials license?

Yes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has granted American University a license to possess limited quantities of specific isotopes for research and educational purposes.

What radioactive materials and radiation producing equipment are permitted on campus?

Radioactive materials fall into one of two categories: exempt quantity and non-exempt quantity. Under most circumstances, exempt quantities of radioactive materials and generally licensed radiation producing/using equipment are allowed on campus. Prior to the acquisition of exempt quantity materials or equipment, notify the RSO of the following:

A. Isotope(s) and activities;

B. The intended use of the material or equipment;

C. Name of the responsible party;

D. Permanent storage location.                               

American University's radioactive materials license is very specific and acquisition of non-exempt quantity materials or radiation producing equipment must be made through the RSO.

What is an exempt source or quantity?

The NRC exempts consumer products available to the general public containing radioactive byproduct material from specific licensing requirements. However, a manufacturer must be specifically licensed by the NRC to produce and distribute such products. The NRC determines that the exempt quantity materials or products as well as their intended uses do not present an unreasonable risk to the environment, public health and safety, and national security. Furthermore, the radioactive source in exempt products is designed with radiation safety features built-in.

What are examples of exempt sources or quantities?

Exempt sources include check sources for radiation instrument testing, some self-luminous products, certain smoke detectors, and vacuum tubes, welding rods, isogenerators, specific electron microscopy stains, and some geological samples.

What is meant by generally licensed equipment and materials?

Certain equipment and materials are covered by an NRC general license and therefore do not require that the user acquire a specific NRC license. Generally licensed equipment and materials are subject to specific use, transfer and disposal requirements as determined by the NRC. The manufacturer of generally licensed equipment will provide the terms of the general license to the purchaser. The purchaser is then required to comply with these terms.

What are examples of generally licensed equipment?               

Generally licensed equipment includes some internal sources for equipment like electron capture detectors and liquid scintillation counters, antistatic devices, some kits used for in-vitro clinical testing, depleted uranium shipping containers, and some exit signs.

If exempt sources and generally licensed equipment can be purchased by anyone, why do I have to notify the RSO before bringing the material or equipment on campus? 

As a licensee, we have greater responsibilities with respect to all radioactive materials or radiation producing equipment than non-licensees.

If exempt sources and generally licensed equipment is determined to be safe by the NRC, why does the RSO have to be involved?

The RSO will assist you in maintenance of any general license requirements as well as in the safe and appropriate stewardship (including disposal) of exempt sources and generally licensed equipment. The RSO will review the request to verify that the material or equipment is indeed non-exempt or under a general license. When necessary the RSO will also incorporate the materials/equipment with the permitted quantities of the current license or facilitate an amendment to the current license.

What is ALARA?

ALARA stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable. ALARA is the principle health and safety philosophy applied to the use of equipment or materials that produce ionizing radiation.

For more information, contact:


For more information, please contact:

Leanne Wright, MPH, CSP
Assistant Director, Environmental Health and Safety
Phone: 202-885-2007