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Radiation protection

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) is the supervisory authority responsible for research reactors and accelerators at Austrian universities. These include the TRIGA Mark II reactor at TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology), the VERA accelerator at the University of Vienna (in German only) and the accelerators at the University of Linz and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

Since these are facilities that work with ionising radiation, the BMBWF thus has the important responsibility of protecting the population and the environment. The mission statement, supervisory objectives and responsibilities of the authority, the facilities subject to supervision and the implementation of supervisory procedures are therefore described below.

General information on radiation protection

Humans have always been exposed to ionising radiation. Naturally occurring radiation comes from space and from naturally radioactive substances in the environment, especially in the soils and rocks of the Earth’s crust. Since the beginning of the 20th century, humans have also been exposed to civilisation-related radiation as well as natural radiation. As technology has developed, people have made increasing use of ionising radiation. However, this radiation can harm humans and the environment. As a result, strict legal regulations govern its use worldwide. Dose limits have been set in order to prevent detectable damage. The fundamental principles of radiation protection are that the use of ionising radiation must always be justified and that exposure to radiation must be kept as low as possible.

As the supervisory authority for the research reactor at TU Wien, the TRIGA Mark II research reactor and the accelerators at the universities, the BMBWF plays a key role in this regard in ensuring the safety of these facilities and the protection of employees and the general population.

Mission statement and supervisory objectives

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, headed by its Federal Minister, is the supervisory authority responsible for research reactors and particle accelerators at Austrian universities.

The paramount objective is to protect humans and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation and to guarantee nuclear safety. The priorities are to minimise the exposure of employees to radiation and prevent the unauthorised release of radioactive substances into the environment. This results in the mandate to continuously monitor the TRIGA research reactor in Vienna and scientific institutions that generate ionising radiation (particle accelerators), ensuring that safety improvements are always implemented and strict inspections carried out.

Facilities subject to BMBWF supervision

  • Research reactor
    There is currently one reactor in operation at Austria’s universities: a TRIGA Mark II reactor at the Atomic Institute at TU Wien. The TRIGA reactor is a swimming pool reactor that is used solely for research purposes, specifically for training, research and isotope production. This reactor has been in operation since 1962. The operator and licence holder is TU Wien.
  • Particle accelerators at universities
    The following facilities are currently in operation at universities:
    - VERA (Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator) (in German only) is an accelerator mass spectrometry facility operated by the Isotope Research and Nuclear Physics Group in the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna. The licence holder is  the University of Vienna.
    - Particle accelerator (Van de Graaff accelerator) for the generation of ion beams (H, He, etc.) with energies between 50 keV and approx. 700 keV at the Institute of Experimental Physics at the University of Linz. The licence holder is the University of Linz.
    - Ion implanter (up to 400 kV) at ZONA (Centre of Surface Analytics and Nanoanalytics) at the University of Linz. The licence holder is the University of Linz.
    - Electron linear accelerator at the University Clinic for Small Animals and Horses. The licence holder is the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

Supervisory responsibilities

In general, a distinction can be made between three different areas of responsibility:

  • Construction and operating permits for facilities subject to authorisation
  • Procedures during operation, including changes to existing facilities
  • Regular reviews of handling procedures for radiation sources

The primary concern is to protect the life and health of individuals (including their descendants) and to protect the population and the environment from the effects of ionising radiation.
The two basic objectives are legality and hazard prevention.
Examining the legality involves verifying that the licence holder is complying with legal regulations and with requirements arising from decisions of the supervisory authority.
To prevent imminent danger or a risk of harm to health or life, the operation, handling or use of the facility or radiation source must be prohibited. Operations may only be resumed once all measures have been taken to avert the danger.

Implementing supervisory procedures

As the competent executing authority for the Radiation Protection Act (Strahlenschutzgesetz, StrSchG) (in German only) and the regulations adopted on the basis of that Act, in particular on the basis of Section 17 StrSchG (in German only), the BMBWF is obliged to conduct regular inspections. On-site inspections of nuclear reactors and particle accelerators must be conducted at least once a year. If there are important grounds (criminal charges, complaints, suspicion of unlawful operation, suspicion of the existence of reasons for prohibiting operation), an inspection may take place at any time. The inspection ensures that all statutory criteria and standards are adhered to, that the facility is in good operational condition and that the requirements as laid out in the operating permit continue to be met.

Links:

• TRIGA Mark II reactor at TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology)
• VERA accelerator at the University of Vienna (in German only)
• TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology)
• University of Vienna
• University of Linz (Johannes Kepler University Linz, JKU)
• University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Radiation Protection Act in the Federal Government’s Legal Information System (Strahlenschutzgesetz, StrSchG) (in German only)

Contact:

Susanne Buck
Department IV/3 – Universities of Technology: Vienna and Graz; Montanuniversität Leoben; Reporting; Radiation Protection
T +43 1 53120 5650
susanne.buck@bmbwf.gv.at