Transporting Radioactive Material

Why is safe transportation important to the nuclear industry?

Canada’s nuclear facilities are among the world’s safest – and best defended. That is why there have never been any deaths from radiation exposure at a Canadian nuclear power plant or storage facility. It is also why no security breach of Canadian nuclear facilities has ever happened.

The best places for mining uranium are thousands of kilometres from nuclear power plants and research labs. And nuclear devices are used in medicine and industry around the world. So, radioactive material must travel, by air, rail, sea, or road. And the nuclear industry has a special responsibility to protect you.

Spent-fuel-transport-cask
Type B package being loaded onto a dock. Source: Nuclear Fuel Transport Co. Ltd.

How does Canada transport radioactive materials?

Canada has been moving large amounts of radioactive materials safely since the 1930s. The industry has learned its safety measures from experience, and government has made strict rules to keep these measures in place.

These safety measures include making sure that:

  • Vehicles and containers are designed for safety – under extreme conditions where necessary.
  • People who handle radioactive material are properly screened and trained.
  • All radioactive material is tracked and accounted for.

Because a security system is only as strong as its weakest link, these measures apply to the whole fuel cycle – from mining, through processing and use, to long-term storage. They apply to power generation, research, medicine, and industrial use.

The measures needed to handle nuclear materials safely depend on the risk. For example, uranium ore from mines and the “yellowcake” powder used in uranium processing are easy to contain and clean up. So, they can be shipped in regular containers. Material that is more radioactive requires special packaging.

Type A packages

Medium-activity materials, such as medical or industrial radioisotopes, are shipped in packages that are designed to withstand minor accidents.

Type B packages

Used fuel and highly radioactive waste are shipped in robust, shielded, and very secure casks. These containers are rigorously tested to withstand extreme conditions.

Package-tests
Source: U.S. NRC.

Type C packages

Small amounts of the most radioactive materials, such as plutonium, are transported by air with Type C packages that can survive a fall from cruising altitude.

Who makes sure that transporting radioactive material is safe?

Two federal organizations, Transport Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, are responsible for safe nuclear transportation. They set the rules that protect public health and the environment from possible leaks and spills.

International standards apply too. Canada has adopted the International Atomic Energy Agency regulations for packaging and transportation of radioactive materials. The industry also works with the World Nuclear Transport Institute and the International Air Transport Association to ensure that Canada remains a leader in transporting nuclear materials safely.

Sources: 

Canadian Nuclear Association, https://cna.ca/.