Radioactive Materials

Controls on radioactive sources

The scope of the Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006: which substances are controlled and how to apply for an export licence.


Radioactive sources are subject to controls under the Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006. This order is one of the Statutory Instruments or secondary legislation resulting from the UK’s Export Control Act 2002. The order details what is controlled and how the legislation will be applied.

Controlled radioactive sources

The Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006 controls the export of certain high-activity radioactive sources as defined under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.

It was introduced as part of the Export Control Organisation’s (ECO’s) international commitment to minimise the risk of radioactive sources falling into the hands of terrorists or criminal groups who may seek sources for terrorist funds. Other countries have introduced similar controls on the import and export of such high-activity radioactive sources.

The export of specific radioactive sources is controlled depending on their radioactivity level. The order defines items in terms of 2 levels – Category 1 and Category 2.

The list of controlled radioactive sources is also provided in the UK National Radioactive Sources List which forms part of the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.

Read the guidance on the Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006.

Original and amending orders and explanatory memorandum

Download the original text of the Radioactive Sources (Control) Order from the website (PDF, 59K).

You can also download an explanatory memorandum on the order from the website (PDF, 76K). The order came into force on 1 October 2006.

The order has subsequently been updated by an amending order in 2009 which brings the original order in line with the Export Control Order 2008. You can read the original text of the Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) (Amendment) Order 2009 on the website.

Radioactive sources: licences

As with other categories of controlled goods, exporters need to apply for a licence. The type of licence required depends on the destination and the nature of the export.

An Open General Licence (OGEL) is available for radioactive sources. This allows the export of specified items from Category 2 of radioactive sources by any exporter to specified destinations. It removes the need to apply for an individual licence. For guidance see the section on OGEL (Radioactive Sources) in the guide to other OGELs.

If the export is in Category 2 or is to a destination not covered by the OGELthen a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) or Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL) will be required. Find out more about different types of licences in the guide on licences: export, trade control and transhipment.

Scope of the controls on radioactive sources

The Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006 prohibits the export from the UK of specified radioactive sources at defined radioactivity levels – Category 1 and Category 2 – without a valid export licence. This categorisation is defined in the IAEA Code.

The schedule to the order sets out radionuclides at the activity levels at or above which they are subject to control. The thresholds are set at the Category 2 minimum and exporters will need to determine:

  • whether their radioactive source is above the minimum levels in the schedule
  • whether it falls under Category 1 or Category 2

The difference between Category 1 and Category 2 is essentially the difference in activity level. Category 1 has a greater radioactivity level than a Category 2 source.

The table below lists the activity levels at or above which a source becomes either Category 1 or 2. This is based on Annex 1 of the IAEA Code. D denotes the extent to which a source could, if not under control, cause severe harm. The primary values are given in terabecquerel (TBq).

Activities corresponding to thresholds of categories

Radionuclide Category 1 Category 2
1000 x D 10 x D
(TBq) (TBq)
Co-60 (Cobalt 60) 3.E+01 3.E-01
Cs-137 (Caesium 137) 1.E+02 1.E+00
Gd-153 (Gadolinium 153) 1.E+03 1.E+01
Ir-192 (Iridium 192) 8.E+01 8.E-01
Pm-147 (Promethium 147) 4.E+04 4.E+02
Se-75 (Selenium 75) 2.E+02 2.E+00
Sr-90 (Y-90) (Strontium 90) (Yttrium 90) 1.E+03 1.E+01
Tm-170 (Thulium 170) 2.E+04 2.E+02
Yb-169 (Ytterbium 169) 3.E+02 3.E+00
Am 241 (Americium 241) 6.E-1 up to but not exceeding 1.27E+00 6.E-1 up to but not exceeding 1.27E+00

The order makes provision for:

  1. radioactive sources, ie physical goods, as defined under the IAEA Code
  2. exports of these sources from the UK to all destinations including the European Union, whether made by individuals or legal entities regardless of their ownership, which are prohibited without an export licence
  3. transhipment of sources through the UK, except where they meet the conditions set out in Article 4 of the order. This specifies:
    • where the source remains on board a vessel or aircraft for the entire period that it remains in the UK
    • that the source is on a through bill of lading or through airway bill and in any event is exported within 30 days of its importation
    • the export destination has been determined in the country from which it was originally exported – prior to its original exportation in connection with the transaction which has given rise to transit or transhipment – and has not been changed prior to its exportation from the UK
    • the source is being returned to that country and was exported from that country in accordance with any laws or regulations relating to the exportation of goods applying therein at the time of the exportation of that source
  4. record keeping – depending on the type of licence held, the exporter must keep records and provide information to any person specified in the order.
  5. offences and penalties – offences for export without a licence are contained in the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, whilst the order makes provision for penalties (this is consistent with the penalties applied in respect to other strategic goods controlled under the Export Control Act 2002)

The order does not control:

  • trafficking or brokering, ie the acquisition, disposal or movement of goods
  • intangible transfers, eg of technology or technical assistance related to the materials
  • the equipment in which the sources may be incorporated – but note that in the case of an illicit export, any goods mixed, packed or found with a radioactive source will be liable to seizure
  • nuclear materials which are covered by the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials
  • radioactive sources in the IAEA Code already covered by existing legislation, to avoid duplication of controls
  • sources which individually fall below the threshold, but which if aggregated together in a single consignment exceed the threshold

It should also be noted that this is a distinct order and is not an amendment to other orders under the Export Control Act 2002. The existing controls on military and dual-use goods/technology are unaffected.

Assessment criteria – radioactive sources

The Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006 is made in accordance with the powers of the Export Control Act 2002 which stipulates that export controls may be imposed where the export or subsequent use of the goods is ‘capable of having a relevant consequence’.

The Order establishes a list of high-activity radioactive sources, which may not be exported without a licence. The order was introduced because controlled radioactive sources pose a risk of being used for terrorist activities, as defined by the IAEA’s Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (IAEA/CODEOC/2004).

The order will help to minimise the risk that these higher activity radioactive sources might be diverted from their legitimate uses.

Criteria for deciding whether to grant a licence

ECO will use flexible licence types wherever possible and base their licensing decisions on the following assessment criteria:

  • The risk of the sources being diverted to terrorist use. In assessing this, ECO will rely on any relevant secret and open source intelligence, the track record of the end user and the capability and attitude of the importing state as regards the security of these sources.
  • ECO’s assessment of the commitment demonstrated by the recipient country in implementing and adhering to the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.
  • Whether the importing country has granted import consent, where appropriate, for a Category 1 type of radioactive source exports.

These criteria are published in accordance with Section 9 of the Export Control Act 2002. Assessments are made on a case-by-case basis and may vary in accordance with new information received and changing circumstances. Therefore an exporter should not assume that a decision sets a precedent, though of course ECO does try to ensure consistency.

A licence may be revoked at any time if new information comes to light or ECO considers the first decision was erroneous.

For exports of Category 1 sources, ECO will consult with the importing country before granting a SIEL.

For Category 2 sources, ECO would expect the exporter to have obtained an End-User Undertaking (EUU) before submitting an application. It will not be a necessary condition of obtaining an export licence for the exporter to have obtained in advance import consent from the relevant authority. ECO may, however, impose notification conditions.

For more information on the requirements for EUU documentation, see the guide on the end-user and stockist undertakings for SIELs and consignee undertakings for OIELs.

For details about applying for a licence, see the guide on licences: export, trade control and transhipment. Applications or registrations for licences can be made via the SPIRE export license database.

Updates and further advice about controls on radioactive sources

To keep informed of latest updates about changes to strategic export control legislation, please subscribe to the Export Control Organisation’s notices to exporters.

If you need further help in deciding whether your goods need an export licence, you should read the guides on strategic exports: when to request an export licence and the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.

Alternatively, if you have any further specific questions about export licensing of radioactive sources you can contact the Export Licensing Manager of Radioactive Sources on the BIS Radioactive Sources Enquiry Line: 020 7215 4483, email:

You are advised to obtain your own legal advice where necessary and to ensure that you are referring to the latest version of the legislation.

Further information

BIS ECO Helpline

020 7215 4594 or email:

BIS Radioactive Sources Enquiry Line

020 7215 4483

Goods Checker on the ECO Checker website (registration required)

Subscrite to the Export Control Organisation’s notices to exporters

Code of Conduct guidance on the IAEA website

Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) (Amendment) Order 2009 full text on the website

Download the Radioactive Sources (Control) Order text from the website (PDF, 59K)

Download a Radioactive Sources (Control) Order explanatory memorandum from the website (PDF, 76K)

Published 10 September 2012

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