A safe, dependable transportation system is a crucial link in the
operation of any proposed permanent geologic repository for the
disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Over the last 40 years, approximately
3,000 shipments of spent nuclear fuel have been transported safely
over America's highways, waterways, and railroads. During this time,
an exemplary safety record has been established with no fatalities,
injuries, or environmental damage caused by the radioactive nature
of the cargo.
Several factors have contributed to this success. The spent nuclear
fuel is a solid, ceramic-like material enclosed in metal tubes and
shipped dry in rugged containers. These containers are heavy, sealed,
thick-walled, steel structures that safely confine the spent nuclear
fuel. These specially engineered containers are designed to keep
their radioactive cargo from being released into the environment
under both normal and accident conditions.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sets design and performance
standards that must be met for a transportation package to be certified.
NRC also establishes safeguard and security regulations to minimize
the possibility of theft, diversion, or attack on shipments.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has the primary responsibility
for regulating the safe transport of radioactive materials in the
United States. It sets the standards for packaging, transporting,
and handling radioactive materials, including labeling, shipping
papers, loading, and unloading requirements. DOT regulations also
specify the training needed by drivers and others involved in the
handling and transport of radioactive waste.
Each shipping container is designed to maintain its integrity under
normal transportation conditions and during hypothetical accident
conditions. The designs must demonstrate protection against radiological
release to the environment under the following hypothetical accident
- A 9 meter (30-foot) free fall on to an unyielding surface
- A puncture test allowing the container to free-fall 1 meter
(40 inches) onto a steel rod 15 centimeters (6 inches) in diameter
- A 30-minute, all-engulfing fire at 800 degrees Celsius (1475
- An 8-hour immersion under 0.9 meter (3 feet) of water.
Compliance with this sequential series of tests may be demonstrated
by computer modeling, scale-model or full-scale tests. An additional
hypothetical accident condition is required for spent fuel in
which an undamaged package must be subjected to a one-hour immersion
under 200 meters (655 feet) of water.
Routing is an important issue because it is related to a variety
of OCRWM activities including advance notification, emergency response
preparedness, inspection and enforcement, and risk management. Until
such time as a Federal receiving facility is designated pursuant
to existing or future legislation, specific routes and number of
shipments cannot be determined. Once shipments of spent nuclear
fuel begin, the Department of Energy will follow existing DOT regulations
which generally limit shipments to either the interstate highway
systems, a state-designated alternative route, or both. Rail shipments
will be routed using current rail practices.
Radioactive waste transport is controlled by the comprehensive
regulatory framework previously described and has an excellent safety
record. Because there is a chance that an accident involving a radioactive
shipment could occur, emergency response plans will be in place
to handle situations that could arise. The key to effective emergency
response is quality training and preparation. The DOE will provide
technical and financial assistance for training public safety officials
through whose jurisdictions the Department transports spent nuclear
fuel and high-level radioactive waste. As the Department develops
the Federal waste management system, it is committed to providing
safe shipments of spent nuclear fuel across the nation's highways