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Packaging and transport of nuclear substances

All nuclear substances are transported in packages that are selected based on the nature, form, and quantity or activity of the substance. There are general design requirements that apply to all package types to ensure that they can be handled safely and easily, secured properly, and are able to withstand routine transport conditions.

The CNSC issues licences and certificates in certain cases for the packaging and transport of nuclear substances as stipulated in the Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015 (PTNSR 2015). These regulations are based on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA’s) SSR-6, Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2018 Edition .

The PTNSR 2015 introduced an ambulatory reference to the IAEA Regulations and no longer explicitly identify and list relevant paragraphs from them. This change ensures that Canadian regulations will continue to align with international regulations if international regulations are modified.

The CNSC published REGDOC-2.14.1, Volume I: Information Incorporated by Reference in Canada’s Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015 , to help the regulated community comply with the PTNSR 2015. REGDOC-2.14.1 links provisions in the regulations to relevant content in the IAEA Regulations, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, other CNSC regulations, and other related information.

Certification of transport packages and special form radioactive material

The CNSC regulates all aspects of the packaging and transport of nuclear substances, including the design, production, use, inspection, maintenance and repair of packages. In addition, the PTNSR 2015 require that certain types of package design be certified by the CNSC prior to being used in Canada. They also include provisions for the certification of special form radioactive material, which specify that the sealed source containing the radioactive material must be designed to be strong enough to maintain leak tightness under the conditions of use and wear for which it was designed.

Learn more about the certification process for transport packages .

See the list of CNSC certified transport packages and special form radioactive material .

Transport licences

The transport of nuclear substances is a regulated activity in Canada, with CNSC licensees involved in the majority of shipments. In general, the transport of nuclear substances does not require a CNSC transport-specific licence. The PTNSR 2015 require that specific transport licences be issued only in the following circumstances:

  • transport of Category I, II or III nuclear material
  • transport of nuclear substances while in transit
  • transport of nuclear substances contained in large objects
  • transport of nuclear substances when the transport cannot meet all of the regulatory requirements
  • transport of nuclear substances that require a multilateral approval of shipments
  • transport of nuclear substances that require a special use vessel

The majority of these licences are issued for the transport of in‑transit shipments (i.e., nuclear substances transiting Canada while being transported from one country to another) and for the transport of Category I, II and III nuclear material.
Details on the specific information requirements for each type of transport licence application can be found in section 6 and section 7 of the PTNSR 2015 .

In-transit shipments

Most shipments transiting Canada have no Canadian licensee involved at the origin or destination. When nuclear substances are transported in packages requiring certification, a CNSC licence to transport is required. The application for such a licence must include information such as the name of the consignor, a description of the nuclear substances to be transported, the amount to be transported and the reason for selecting a route through Canada. Note that a shipment transiting Canada by aircraft or by ship, where there is no scheduled stop, does not require a transport licence.

Category I, II and III nuclear material

A CNSC licence to transport Category I, II or III nuclear material is required to transport material that is defined in section 1 of the Nuclear Security Regulations , such as plutonium, various grades of unirradiated uranium-235, and irradiated fuels consisting of depleted or natural uranium, thorium or low-enriched fuel.

REGDOC-2.12.3, Security of Nuclear Substances: Sealed Sources and Category I, II and III Nuclear Material , offers assistance in preparing a written transportation security plan as required under section 5 of the Nuclear Security Regulations when applying for these licences.

Shipments that cannot meet all of the requirements of the regulations

In some circumstances, a proposed shipment cannot be transported in accordance with all of the regulatory requirements. In this case, the applicant must provide justification as to why the shipment cannot be made in any of the types of packages found in the PTNSR 2015 and the IAEA SSR-6, Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2018 Edition . The applicant must provide information to demonstrate that the overall level of safety of transport is at least equivalent to that which would be provided if all of the applicable requirements had been met. The licence will only be issued if the shipment can be done safely.

Working together to ensure the safe transport of nuclear substances

A circle made-up of four connected puzzle
pieces demonstrating “Who Does What” with respect to the safe
transportation of nuclear substances in Canada. Each puzzle piece
represents different ownership of responsibilities in the process. Text
version below.
Long description:

Safely Transporting Nuclear Substances in Canada: Who Does What?

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)

  • Establish classification criteria for the transport of nuclear substances and packages
  • Establish packaging standards
  • Certification of packages used to transport higher-risk nuclear substances
  • Issuance of transport licences
  • Review of transportation security plans
  • Establish requirements for radiation protection programs


  • Drivers’ licences and vehicle safety requirements
  • Speed limits, load securement and the weights allowed
  • First response in the event of an emergency
  • Highway and road safety and law enforcement

CNSC and Transport Canada

  • Communication of hazards (via labelling and marking of packages; transport documents; and placarding requirements for vehicles)
  • Reporting requirements

Transport Canada

  • Federal transport regulations for all major modes of transport, including modal-specific requirements for road, air, rail, marine
  • Training requirements of all persons who handle or transport dangerous goods in Canada
  • Operation of Canadian Transport Emergency Centre (CANUTEC) and management of emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs)

Transport of nuclear substances by drone

CNSC inspectors overseeing activities from the control room. CNSC inspectors overseeing a technician preparing a drone for the transport of medical isotopes.

Aerial drones are currently used within Canada for commercial applications, such as aerial photography, rescue missions, environmental monitoring, and the transportation of cargo, particularly to remote areas. The use of drones to transport nuclear substances, in particular medical isotopes, is now being explored by industry to take advantage of the potential benefits of this mode of transport. Drones could be much more reliable because they are not impacted by traffic the way that traditional ground transport can be. In addition, smaller quantities of medical isotopes could be transported since there would be no need to account for traffic delays. There is also a potential environmental benefit to the use of drones, as it could reduce the carbon footprint associated with medical isotope delivery.

How is the transport of nuclear substances by drone regulated?

The responsibility for ensuring the safe transport of nuclear substances is shared between the CNSC and Transport Canada. Transport Canada's Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDGR) deal with the transport of all classes of dangerous goods, while the CNSC's Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015(PTNSR)are primarily concerned with the health, safety and security of the public and the protection of the environment related to the special characteristics of radioactive material. Both the TDGR and PTNSR apply to all individuals who handle, offer for transport, transport or receive nuclear substances. The requirements of the PTNSR and TDGR currently cover all modes of transport, including the use of drones. Aerial drones are considered aircraft and are also regulated under the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CAR). Therefore, drones must operate in accordance with all rules established by the CAR.

Nothing in any of the above-mentioned regulations prevents the transport of radioactive material by aerial drone. However, proponents must ensure compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements. If necessary, the CNSC can propose future amendments to the PTNSR or other regulations based on experience gained from aerial drone transportation.

CNSC inspectors conduct regular compliance verifications to ensure that consignors and carriers comply with the requirements of the PTNSR and TDGR. They verify proof of training for transport workers, review transport documents, and inspect packages to ensure that they are prepared for transport in accordance with those regulations. If a licensee or carrier is found to be non-compliant, the CNSC uses a graded enforcement approach to ensure the implementation of corrective measures.

In addition, any accidents or dangerous occurrences resulting from the use of aerial drones to transport nuclear substances must be reported to the CNSC. If any negative trends are observed in terms of accident frequency or severity, the CNSC can take appropriate regulatory actions, such as issuing orders or administrative monetary penalties.

As new and innovative ways to operate are explored, the CNSC continues to use a risk-informed approach to regulation and remains committed to protecting the environment and ensuring the health, safety and security of the Canadian public.

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