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The Safety of Transporting Nuclear Material Basic Facts

  • Over the past 40 years, about 3,000 shipments of spent nuclear fuel have navigated more than 1.7 million miles of U.S. roads and railways. Of all this travel, no radioactive materials have been released to contaminate the environment as a result from an accident The nuclear industry's commitment to safe packaging and security has produced a safety record that would be difficult to match. The basic safety measures undertaken in the transportation of nuclear material ensures that the industry's safety track record will remain undiminished.
  • Each year, 100 million shipments of hazardous supplies navigate America's roadways, railways, airspace and shipping routes. Of these hazardous shipments, only 2 to 5 million involve radioactive material. At the most, only 5 percent of hazardous shipments in the United States involve radioactive materials. And most of these shipments are radioisotopes for medical and industrial use.
  • The well-designed packages and casks, used to carry nuclear materials, along with implementing stringent regulations and tested safety measures, are the reasons for this stellar safety record.
  • Casks used for shipping spent nuclear fuel are designed to minimize potential radiation exposure for the public. They are rigorously designed according to requirements established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Transportation in volumes 10 and 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The casks are about 15 times thicker than a gasoline tank truck shell, and they include three inches of stainless steel and thick radiation shields. Typically, for every ton of fuel, there are more than three tons of protective packaging and shielding.
  • Casks are designed and tested to withstand crashes, fire, water immersion and puncture. To be certified, a cask design must withstand a sequence of four tests that measure its performance in specified crash and fire accident conditions.
  • Public routes used for the transport of nuclear materials must meet strict safety requirements before nuclear fuel is permitted access. Department of Transportation regulations require carriers of materials with high levels of radioactivity, such as spent fuel, to use the safest routes available. Risk assessments of radioactive materials transportation evaluate factors such as accident rate, transit time, population density, other vehicles sharing the route and time of day.
  • The DOT identifies "preferred routes," which consist of interstate highways and bypass routes around cities, where possible, or an alternative route selected by a state routing authority. If the routing authority selects an alternate route, it must demonstrate by a routing analysis that using the alternate route does not increase overall risk. Alternate route selections must be preceded by consultations between DOT and affected state and local authorities before such designations can go into effect.
  • Specialized trucking companies handle used nuclear fuel shipments in the United States. These experienced, specially licensed companies haul all kinds of hazardous materials more than 50 million miles annually. Vehicles are state of the art, equipped with computers that provide an instantaneous update on the truck's location and convey messages between driver and dispatcher through a satellite communications network. Drivers receive extensive training and must be certified.
  • Radioactive materials are transported to medical, industrial, research and manufacturing facilities; nuclear power plants; and storage and disposal sites. They are used in a variety of applications, such as the diagnosis and treatment of disease, agricultural research, manufacture of commercial goods and nuclear electricity production.
  • The United States has a half-century of experience in transporting radioactive materials.
  • It is less hazardous to ship solid spent nuclear fuel than to ship many other materials, including gasoline, that are routinely transported all over the country. Fresh nuclear fuel is even less hazardous to ship, and is not highly radioactive.

Last updated June 27, 2012, 8:42am CDT.

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