Transport Domain Insight (2.2.5), EURAD-PREDIS (DOI 10.5281/zenodo.7024740)
Radioactive material transport by land, water or air is a standard procedure worldwide for decades. The practice has well established guidelines to comply with regulations and stakeholder expectations. Distinctions are typically made between domestic and international transport, as well as internal site transport and that which is via public roads. The objective of this overview document is to provide guidance focused on public and international transport issues in the pre-disposal stage of waste management.
About 20 million transport consignments of radioactive material take place annually, though it is estimated that just 5% of radioactive material shipped globally each year relates to nuclear power production. The other 95% is related to transport of radioisotopes for medical and industrial use. In the USA, the US Department of Transportation estimates that the average distance per shipment of radioactive material is about 55 km, which is significantly below the average transport distance of 185 km for all other types of hazardous material. [WNE 2021]
When radioactive materials are transported with respect to nuclear power product and waste management, there are often multiple steps of the transport activities through the fuel cycle process. Transport must consider initial source uranium all the way through waste transport to fuel cycle service and material processing facilities, interim storage facilities and finally towards disposal. Shipment is done by specialised authorised companies, sometimes using purpose-built transport vehicles/ships and containers. Dual-purpose containers (casks) may be used which are designed for both storage and transport. Certain radioactive materials like used fuel and high-level radioactive waste can require additional shielding during internal transfers to reduce potential radiation exposure. The level of radioactivity will control the level of safety assessment and regulatory oversight demands, for instance based on the higher hazard level.
The international guidelines and regulations for safe transport of radioactive materials continue to be updated to account for best practices and towards harmonisation where possible. Some variations exist between practices of Member States that hopefully can be overcome in the future to reduce costs and risks while maintaining safety of transport.