ANS Position Affirms Safety of Transporting Nuclear Waste
La GRANGE PARK, Ill. July 12, 2002 -- With the Senate approving Yucca Mountain as the nation's first geological repository on Tuesday, attention now focuses on the security of moving spent nuclear fuel to the Nevada site. The American Nuclear Society has adopted a position statement that addresses the safety of transporting radioactive materials.
ANS applauds the Senate's vote approving Yucca Mountain.
"The transportation of radioactive materials in the United States has enjoyed, and can continue to enjoy, an excellent safety record," said Herb Fontecilla, chair of ANS' Public Policy Committee. "In view of this safety record, the small number of shipments compared to the volume of other hazardous materials, the inherent robustness and stringent requirements imposed on the shipping casks, we believe that the projected shipments of used nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain can be accomplished safely and without impacting the health and safety of the population along the shipping routes."
Operation of Yucca Mountain for used nuclear fuel would result in additional shipments from reactor sites, where the fuel is currently stored. Current estimates are for about 2,200 truck shipments and 500 rail shipments per year over a 24-year period. This would constitute an increase of less than 0.1 percent over the current number of radioactive shipments, and less than 0.0007 percent of the 400 million shipments of all kinds of hazardous materials taking place per year in the United States.
The nuclear energy industry has transported more than 3,000 shipments of used nuclear fuel over 1.7 million miles of U.S. highways and railroads since 1964. No nuclear fuel container has ever cracked or released any radioactive material to the environment. Also, the Department of Energy has transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico about 700 shipments of transuranic waste over 1.5 million miles since 1999 without incident.
"All shipments of radioactive materials take place according to regulations issued by the Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," said Fontecilla. "Federal regulations address packaging, labeling, loading and unloading, storage, transportation routes and vehicle requirements, as well as limits on external radiation.
"There also are requirements to protect against the diversion of these materials. All shippers and carriers are licensed, as are the storage and shipping containers."
Packages, or casks, used for the transportation of materials with the highest levels of radioactivity – including used nuclear fuel – are required to survive such simulated accident conditions as a crash at high speed into a concrete barrier, water immersion, a 30-foot drop onto an unyielding surface, severe impact and extreme heat.
Studies of the risk posed by the transportation of used fuel confirm that the current regulations provide adequate protection of the public health and safety, according to the ANS position statement. In addition, used fuel shipments take place only along specified routes, and governors of states through which the material will pass are notified in advance.
"More than 45 million shipments of radioactive materials have taken place in the United States over the last three decades, with a current rate of about three million per year," said Fontecilla. "The majority of these radioactive shipments consist of radiopharmaceuticals, luminous dials and indicators, smoke detectors, contaminated clothing and equipment, and research and industrial sources. Fewer than 3,500, or 0.01 percent, have been involved in any sort of accident, incident or anything other than routine transportation. Fewer than 200 were damaged or failed in any form.
"None of the damaged packages contained used fuel or high-level radioactive materials."
ANS, established in 1954, is a professional organization of scientists and engineers devoted to the applications of nuclear science and technology. Its 11,000 members come from diverse technical disciplines ranging from physics and nuclear safety to operations and power, and from across the full spectrum of the national and international nuclear enterprise, including government, academia, research laboratories and private industry.
For more information regarding this and other position statements of the American Nuclear Society, please go to its web site at http://www.ans.org/pi/ps/.