A rule now being considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would require a specific license for anyone who acquires, receives, possesses, uses or sells aircraft instruments with luminescent dials containing radium-226.
Most – but by no means all – aircraft instruments, through the 1950s, used radium-226 to make them glow in the dark, as did many wrist watches of that era.
A major problem, according to the Aircraft Electronics Association, is that it is difficult to know exactly which instruments and indicators fall under the proposed rule, which lists legacy aircraft instruments, indicators and even some emergency exit signs among its regulated items.
There is “significant confusion” about the Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the AEA states. The association has requested a meeting with the NRC in order to discuss the issue and try to get its questions answered.
Almost all antique, classic and Warbird airplanes with authentic – or reasonably authentic – instrument panels apparently would fall under the proposed rule, as would collections of old instruments and their vendors. Many collectors and vendors hold immeasurably valuable and increasingly rare instruments needed by restorers looking for authenticity, including museums.
The proposed rule would implement provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gave the NRC jurisdiction over radium-226 and “other radioactive material that the Commission determines could pose a threat to public health and safety or the common defense and security.”
Currently these materials are regulated by the states, 34 of which have formal agreements with the NRC.
The draft final rule is accessible online at nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2007/07-052.html.