Environmental Health & Safety

University of Colorado Boulder

Lab Support

Radiation Safety in Research

Radiation Safety Handbook

The first most important resource for research with radiation is the Radiation Safety Handbook. This document details all critical points necessary to maintain safety in your laboratory and meet EH&S requirements. We recommend saving a link to this document and referring back to it with any questions that arise.

You can access the handbook here.

What is Radiation?

Radioactivity is the spontaneous emission of energy, either photons or particles, from unstable atoms. This energy can be harnessed as a powerful tool in research ranging from engineering and physics to biomedical research and DNA sequencing. There are several types of radioactive emissions, and each type has unique safety considerations and handling techniques.

Not all forms of radiation produce the same biological effect, but the main concern from exposure to radiation is the development of cancer. Many people are understandably afraid of radiation, thanks to Hollywood, but radiation is part of everyday life—there are many sources of natural “background” radiation, both external and internal. Just living along the Front Range approximately doubles our dose from background radiation because of the increased cosmic radiation at higher altitudes and terrestrial radiation from the surrounding mountains.

Radiation at CU Boulder

The nature of research at the University is variable, innovative and frequently changing. In order to meet the unique needs of this environment, the University has a “broad-scope” license from CDPHE, allowing a wide variety of isotopes and uses of radioactive materials in research. This type of license requires that all research involving radiation at the University be approved by a Radiation Safety Officer and Radiation Safety Committee (RSC).

Radiation Safety License

The RSC is a faculty oversight committee charged with ensuring the compliance of both the Boulder and Colorado Springs campus with the University license and radiation regulations. The RSC meets quarterly to review new licenses, approve amendments to licenses, and formalize license terminations—relying on staff from the Radiation Safety unit to ensure the suitability of facilities and equipment, complete the necessary paperwork, and provide expertise on radiation safety “best practices” for each protocol.

The RSC and Radiation Safety unit may also take action to bring a laboratory back into compliance with regulations in order to protect the ability of the University as a whole to use radiation under the broad-scope license.