Although it involves the re-utilization of an object that contains a radioisotope, the recycling of tritium (H-3) poses no danger to those who earn a living by contributing to the services provided by the recycling industry.
In fact, tritium produces a lower level of radioactive waves than that which comes from some of the substances used in various types of biochemical labeling fluids, fluids found in clinical labs and in hospitals. Even in nature one can find traces of tritium, specifically within one of the atmosphere’s well-defined zones.
When H-3 has been placed in an exit sign, then it occupies a much smaller zone. It fills a small space inside of a high impact tube. More importantly, that tube gets placed inside of more high impact tubing. Preservation of that dual containment system helps to ensure the successful completion of any recycling procedure. Therefore, any break or crack in the sign’s glassware must be noted.
The U.S. government has asked all those who buy and use tritium exit signs to check for evidence of damage to a sign’s glass tubing. Those who discover such damage are supposed to report it to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). That is the agency that oversees the recycling of H-3 containing signage.
One part of that Commission’s oversight concerns the integrity of the object that is supposed to be recycled. The other part focuses on the location of that same glowing item. That is why the Commission assigns a license number to each plant that manufactures tritium exit signs. That number must accompany the completed product, after it leaves the factory in which it was made.
Of course the mere assignment of a number does not ensure the Commission’s ability to track the location of all radioactive signage, including that which contains H-3. The USNRC needs to be informed whenever such objects are sold by a factory to a supplier, or by a supplier to a building owner. The seller has been given that responsibility.
If a seller fails to carry out that responsibility, then he or she could get fined by the USNRC. The Commission could become aware of that failure in more than one way. It might get word from a buyer that he or she has received signage that contains some sort of break or crack. Alternately, it might receive paperwork from the buyer, paperwork that concerns the steps taken, once the labeled sign has ceased to function properly.
While the government controls were originally meant to guarantee the safety of any manufactured item that held a radioactive isotope, those same controls now facilitate oversight of the recycling process. Once a building owner finds that a sign’s usefulness has ended, then he or she must follow the proper steps, while disposing of that item. That glowing object cannot be tossed in the trash. It is supposed to be returned to the manufacturer.
That would seem like an unrealistic demand, if each sign did not come with the license number assigned to the plant where it has been made. Yet the manufacturer’s identifying number should be visible on any sign, or within the paperwork that came with that piece of signage. That information should allow any building owner to return a tritium sign to the plant where it was made. That represents the final step in the total journey of that recycled object. Because each step has been overseen by an agency within the government, the entire process takes place in a safe and secure manner.