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Transport FAQs on used nuclear fuel

Q.1 Who oversees the transport of used nuclear fuel?

In Canada, the responsibility for ensuring the safe transport of used nuclear fuel is shared between the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and Transport Canada.

Transport Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDGR) deal with the transport of all classes of dangerous goods. The CNSC’s Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015 (PTNSR 2015) 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, in this case used nuclear fuel.

Each province has its own act and regulations governing the transport of dangerous goods, all of which are based on the TDGR. These acts and regulations allow the provinces to conduct roadside inspections.

Q.2 What is the difference from a regulatory perspective between the transport of used nuclear fuel and the transport of other nuclear substances?

In all cases, the transport of nuclear substances, which includes used nuclear fuel, must be carried out in accordance with the PTNSR 2015 and the TDGR. Both sets of regulations apply to all persons who handle, offer for transport, transport or receive nuclear substances by all modes of transport.

All nuclear substances are transported in packages that are selected based on the nature, form, quantity and activity of the nuclear substance, independent of its end use.

Q.3 What are the responsibilities of the consignor, carrier and consignee?

Consignors are responsible for complying with all regulatory requirements, including but not limited to the proper classification and packaging of the nuclear substances, the labelling and marking of the packages, and the preparation of the appropriate transport documents to accompany the shipments.

Carriers are responsible for ensuring that the packages have been properly loaded and secured on the means of transport, and that safety marks remain properly displayed at all times.

Consignees are responsible for verifying that the packages have not been damaged or tampered with during transport and ensuring that the nuclear substances are properly unloaded from the packages.

Q.4 How is the transport of used nuclear fuel regulated?

Transport is governed by international regulations set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and developed over decades of collaboration between countries around the world. Most countries use the IAEA’s specific safety requirements document No. SSR-6, Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, as the basis for regulating the packaging and transport of radioactive materials within their borders.

In Canada, the CNSC incorporates the IAEA transport regulations into the PTNSR 2015 through an ambulatory reference (i.e., as amended from time to time), thereby ensuring that Canada’s domestic regulations remain aligned with international regulations for the packaging and transport of nuclear substances. The CNSC is responsible for regulating all aspects of the packaging and transport of nuclear substances, including the design, production, use, inspection, maintenance and repair of packages. The CNSC also regulates all phases of transport, from the preparation of packages for shipment to the unloading at the final destination.

The TDGR are based on the United Nations’ Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods – Model Regulations and cover all classes of dangerous goods. Both sets of regulations include mechanisms for hazard classification, communication tools, and specific transport conditions for all modes for transport.

Q.5 How does the CNSC ensure that transport is done safely?

CNSC inspectors regularly conduct compliance inspections to assess whether shipments of nuclear substances are carried out in compliance with applicable regulations. The CNSC regulates the transport of used nuclear fuel through a series of safety and security regulatory requirements covering the entire journey of a shipment, from the time it is initially packaged to its arrival at the final destination.

Regulatory control of the packaging and transport of used nuclear fuel is generally exerted by:

  • certifying the design of packages used for transporting used nuclear fuel
  • registering users of the certified packages
  • licensing the transport of used nuclear fuel (note that licence applications must include transport security plans)

Q.6 Is it safe to transport used nuclear fuel?

Yes. The very robust transport packages required for used fuel transport are designed, tested and certified to retain their contents under accident conditions. Used fuel has been transported safely nationally and internationally for over 60 years by road, rail, water and air. There have been no reported serious injuries, overexposures, fatalities or serious environmental consequences attributable to the radioactive nature of such material being transported or being involved in a transport accident. It is a highly regulated activity that needs to meet the stringent requirements of both Transport Canada and the CNSC before being approved.

Q.7 How safe are the containers that transport used nuclear fuel?

Extremely safe. The design of these packages is certified by the CNSC prior to being used in transport. In order to obtain certification, their design must first undergo strict testing (for example, using a prototype), the requirements of which are set by regulations. Packages must be able to resist the cumulative effect of a 9-metre drop onto an unyielding surface, a 30-minute thermal exposure at 800 °C, and immersion in 15 metres of water for 8 hours, all without a breach of containment. Some package types must even be capable of being immersed in 200 metres of water for 1 hour. The CNSC’s team of certification engineers examine and scrutinize the safety analyses of the package designs submitted by the package designers to determine whether they meet the necessary performance specifications. Only package designs that meet all specifications are certified and allowed to be used for transporting used nuclear fuel.

Q.8 What security measures are needed for this type of shipment?

The PTNSR 2015 require the submission of a transport security plan for shipments of used nuclear fuel. The consignor must prepare a plan detailing the proposed security measures and arrangements for the shipment. A threat assessment must also be carried out in order to identify any credible threats that might place the shipment at risk.

Shipments of used nuclear fuel require security measures such as escort personnel, communications arrangements to contact response forces, security searches prior to shipment, contingency arrangements in case of delay or mechanical breakdown, and procedures to be followed during scheduled stops or unscheduled delays.

CNSC staff assess the transport security plan to ensure that it meets all regulatory requirements. All information pertaining to security measures and arrangements for this type of shipment is considered prescribed information and cannot be disclosed to the public. Prescribed information is provided only to persons or agencies with a valid need to know, such as police response forces.

Additional information can be found in CNSC regulatory document REGDOC-2.12.3, Security of Nuclear Substances: Sealed Sources and Category I, II and III Nuclear Material, Version 2.1 - Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Q.9 What would happen in the unlikely event of an accident?

Under the PTNSR 2015 and the TDGR, the consignor and carrier must have measures in place to respond to an emergency involving the transport of their nuclear substances. In addition, the TDGR require the consignor to display a 24-hour telephone number on the transport document that accompanies a shipment of dangerous goods. The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that appropriate technical assistance is immediately available to emergency responders.

The PTNSR 2015 require that all incidents/accidents be immediately reported to the CNSC. Once notified of a transport incident involving nuclear substances, CNSC staff follow up to provide appropriate technical information and advice to responders onsite. CNSC staff can be deployed immediately, if needed, to assist in managing the incident.

The procedures to follow in the event of an accident are defined in the consignor’s emergency response plan. The plan details the response actions to be taken, the resources available to mitigate the situation and, ultimately, how to return the accident area to normal conditions. In most cases, the consignor would arrange for an accident investigation team to be immediately sent to the site to determine the cause and impact of the accident and provide expertise in assessment, area monitoring, air sampling, and exposure and contamination control. A second response team would ensure clean-up, recovery and restoration. Because used nuclear fuel is a solid material, contamination would be localized to the immediate area around the container and would be quickly cleaned up in the unlikely event of a release of a nuclear substance. The consignor is responsible for the cost of response and any clean-up.

Q.10 Is one mode of transport safer than another when it comes to used nuclear fuel?

No, there is not one mode of transport that is considered safer than another. The basic philosophy behind the transport of nuclear substances, including used nuclear fuel, is that safety relies heavily on the design of the transport package. Each package design is evaluated to ensure that it meets all applicable regulatory requirements specific to a given mode of transport. Transport package designs are certified for specific mode(s) of transport, whether it is by road, rail, air and/or sea. Regardless of the mode of transport, package users must be registered with the CNSC. There are also additional regulatory controls, including labelling, placarding, quality assurance and maintenance records, that help ensure that these packages can be carried safely in any mode of transport.

Q.11 Where can I get more information?

For additional information, visit the CNSC website or contact the CNSC directly.

For additional information on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 and related regulations visit the Transport Canada website or contact Transport Canada directly.

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