Transportation Methods

Large amounts of radioactive materials have been transported in Canada since the 1930s. At that time, the Canadian government, military, and industry already had extensive experience in transporting hazardous materials such as munitions, chemicals, and petroleum products. Over 70 years later, Canadian organizations are still building on their experience in transporting, handling, and storing radioactive and other hazardous materials in Canada and internationally.

Some of the measures that contribute to safe management of both radioactive and other hazardous materials include:

  • safe engineering of vehicles and containers;
  • qualified personnel receiving sound procedures and training;
  • inventory tracking and accountability;
  • independent, professional regulatory bodies; and
  • careful study and analysis of incidents.

Securing Transportation

Nuclear facilities depend on the safe, efficient, and reliable transportation of the full range of nuclear fuel cycle materials. This includes all operations, beginning with the mining of uranium, to the manufacturing of new fuel bundles, to the eventual shipment of spent fuel to reprocessing plants or storage facilities.

For security reasons, the Canadian nuclear industry accounts for all uranium from the moment it leaves the mine until its final storage. Still, the measures needed to handle uranium safely depend on where they are in the cycle. For example, the uranium ore brought from the mines and the uranium oxide concentrate (yellowcake) produced in mills are not soluble in water and can easily be recovered in the event of a spill – and, until uranium fuel is actually used in  a reactor, the materials are not dangerously radioactive.

Many of the same principles apply to transporting nuclear isotopes for applications outside of the generation of power, such as food irradiation, crop improvements, industrial gauges and non-destructive testing, and medical diagnosis and therapy.

Types of Packages

For packaging of nuclear materials, Canada has adopted the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which are based on the characteristics of nuclear material they contain, regardless of the mode of transportation:

  • Ordinary industrial containers are sufficient for low-activity materials such as uranium ore and uranium oxide concentrate (yellowcake).
  • Type A packages are designed to withstand minor accidents, and are used for medium-activity materials, such as medical or industrial radioisotopes.
  • Type B packages are robust and very secure casks used for used fuel and highly radioactive waste. These packages have shielding for gamma and neutron radiation, even under extreme accident conditions. Type B packages are required to undergo stringent testing, which can include free-drop testing, puncture testing, thermal testing, immersion testing, and simulated aircraft accidents:
  1. a 9-metre (30-foot) free fall onto an unyielding surface;
  2. a puncture test, allowing the container to free-fall 1 metre (40 inches) onto a steel rod;
  3. a 30-minute, fully engulfing fire at 800°C (1475°F); and
  4. an 8-hour immersion under water.
  • Small amounts of high-activity materials, such as plutonium, are transported by aircraft with Type C packages. These offer even greater protection in accident scenarios than Type B packages do. They can survive being dropped from an aircraft at cruising altitude.

General Plastics, a manufacturing and quality-assurance company, has posted a video of several drop tests on its YouTube channel.

Nuclear Materials Transport Packages
Package Type
Activity Level
Content Example(s)
Very low
Cardboard box
Uranium ore, uranium concentrates
Package only
Steel drum
Type A
Medical isotopes, radioactive sources used in research and industry
Package and vehicle
Cardboard, plywood or metal container with lead shielding, that has passed a drop test and a puncture test
Type B
Used fuel, cobalt therapy sources
Package and vehicle
Steel container with depleted uranium or lead shielding, that has passed a drop test, puncture test, fire test and immersion test
Type C
Very high
Package, vehicle and indication if fissile
Same as Type B, with security seals to detect tampering and armed guard supervision

Transport Regulations

In Canada, the responsibility for ensuring the safe transport of nuclear substances is jointly shared between Transport Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). While Transport Canada deals with the transport of all classes of dangerous goods, the CNSC is primarily concerned with the health, safety, and security of the public, and protection of the environment, as it relates to the special characteristics of radioactive material.

Under the guidance of these federal organizations, Canada has adopted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) TS-R-1 Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material as the basis to regulate the packaging and transport of radioactive materials. Most industrialized countries have adopted these regulations.

Other organizations with international mandates in the transportation of nuclear materials include theWorld Nuclear Transport Institute, which represents the interests of the nuclear industries in many countries, and the International Air Transport Association, which represents the interests of more than 240 airlines, and is headquartered in Montreal.


World Nuclear Association, Transport of Radioactive Materials, April 2014,
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Regulating the Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances in Canada, September 2010,