Preparing for the Transport of Radioactive Waste

Last Updated On Mar 28, 2022

The transport of radioactive waste is the last step in the life cycle of waste creation, collection, packaging, storage, and transportation to an approved government Treatment, Storage, or Disposal Facility (TSDF). PacTec has expertise in packaging for specific types of radioactive waste and, as such, is knowledgeable of the government’s transport requirements as far as they impact packaging, labeling, and placarding. We do not claim to be experts in the transport process, but it is crucial to understand the basics in the final step of radioactive waste disposal to understand packaging needs. Previously, PacTec posted the article, "What is Radioactive Waste? How to Identify, Contain, and Transport Radioactive Waste," and now we look a little closer at the transportation of radioactive materials.

Who Can Transport Hazardous Waste?

The transport of radioactive waste is highly regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), guided by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) policies and procedures and in adherence to regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The transport of radioactive waste only refers to waste that will leave a facility for another destination and not stored hazardous waste.

The DOT enforces the rules for the transport of radioactive materials and, with the EPA, establishes the standards for radioactive materials that will be transported (in terms of packaging, package labeling, manifest preparation, handling, marking, and placarding of waste shipments). The principle of the many regulations is one of “cradle-to-the-grave." The radioactive materials are tracked from the point of origin to the final disposition.

Not just any company can transport hazardous waste, including radioactive waste. The EPA and DOT developed hazardous waste transporter regulations, found in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFT) part 263. The EPA tracks hazardous waste transporters by assigning an EPA ID number to the transportation company. The Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest is required by the EPA and the DOT for all waste generators transporting hazardous waste offsite for treatment, recycling, storage, or disposal.

The manifest forms for low-level radioactive waste transport are based on U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) forms 540 (Uniform Low-Level Radioactive Waste Manifest) and 541 (Uniform Low-Level Radioactive Waste - Shipping Paper). The NRC updated the forms in 2021 to expedite the paperwork.

The companies that are authorized to transport radioactive materials must be government-approved. In addition, all drivers and handlers have gone through specialized safety and training programs and understand the manifest system. Following is a list of 10 experienced radioactive waste transporters and a link to each website.

Approved Modes of Transportation for Radioactive Wastes

According to the EPA, approximately three million shipments of radioactive material are made in the U.S. annually. Only specific modes of transport for radioactive waste are allowed by the DOT. These modes enable the tracking of shipment routes to protect the public and the environment. Knowing the transport path of radioactive material shipments helps with a rapid response in the event of an accidental spill. It also minimizes the chances of illegal activity like the abandonment of a shipment at randomly chosen locations in a practice called “midnight dumping.”

Containers must be loaded in every type of transportation mode in a way that avoids spillage and the scattering of loose material. The approved modes of transportation are the following.

  • Road – Transporting waste by truck is the most common mode of transportation. Shipping routes along highways are mapped out to follow the most direct interstate route while avoiding heavily populated areas as much as possible. This is to ensure accurate delivery of the packages and containers. The shipping papers must always be readily available and accessible. The EPA and DOT are the primary regulatory agencies.
  • Rail – Shipment of radioactive materials by rail car is the second most common mode of transportation. There is a limit as to the amount of waste that can be transported in a single rail car for safety reasons, determined by package spacing requirements. The DOE and federal regulations control rail shipments.
  • Water – The transport of radioactive waste by water is not common. It is a much slower transportation mode compared to road and rail. The type of radioactive waste typically transported via water includes nuclear fuel, uranium hexafluoride, and low-level waste. The DOT and NRC regulate water transport of radioactive waste in U.S. waters.
  • Air – The DOT severely limits the shipment of radioactive materials by air, with the exception of radioactive drugs. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulates air transportation of radioactive materials or waste.

Preparing Your Waste for Transport

What do you need to transport radioactive waste? Selecting approved nuclear waste containers is first because they are specially designed to withstand crashes, drops, fires, and impacts. The U.S. Department of Transportation and Nuclear Regulatory Commission prepared a reference chart that summarizes minimum packaging requirements and radiation level limits for transport by mode of radioactive materials other than low specific activity (LSA) and surface-contaminated objects (SCO).

A common question is: How much radioactive waste can I transport? The limits are based on the packaging size and the amount of radioactive material. Approved radioactive waste packaging, like PacTec’s products, holds a maximum amount of waste based on government requirements. In addition, a package of radioactive material that is transported under normal conditions on a common carrier in an open or closed transport vehicle cannot have a radiation level that exceeds 200 mrem/hour at any point on a package’s external surface, and the Transport Index (TI) cannot exceed 10. The Transport Index (TI) is a number added to the package label that indicates the amount of control the transporting company should exercise.

The DOT requires the specific marking, labeling, and placarding of hazardous materials. Marking and labeling are on the package, and placards are on the transport vehicle. Most people have seen the diamond-shaped placards on the sides of transport vehicles, indicating the nature of the waste. The placard informs as to whether the waste is corrosive, flammable solid or liquid, radioactive, explosive, oxidizer, spontaneously combustible, or oxidizer.

There are three diamond-shaped labels indicating the surface level radioactive amount.

  • White 1 - not greater than .5 millirems/hour
  • Yellow 2 - not greater than 50 millirems/hour AND does not exceed 1 millirem/hour at 1 meter
  • Yellow 3 - greater than 50 millirems/hour or exceeds 1 millirem/hour at 1 meter

The TI is the radiation level at one meter, making it the base surface radiation level.

The package requirements for transporting radioactive materials, according to the NRC, are based on the radioactivity inside the package. The package labeling identifies the radiation hazard on the outside of the package. The warning labels on the individual packages are similar to the placards placed on the outside of the vehicles but have more information.

There are also marking requirements that may include a basic statement saying, “HAZARDOUS WASTE - Federal Law Prohibits Improper Disposal. If found, contact the nearest public safety authority or the Environmental Protection Agency.” Markings can also indicate things like overpack, package orientation, inhalation hazard, and so on. The generator’s name and address and the manifest document number are stated. There may be more required information depending on the packaging contents. Sometimes, more than one label is required on a container for the transport of radioactive waste.

PacTec has developed a line of nuclear waste packaging that is suitable for the macro encapsulation of low-level mixed waste (LLMW), radioactive lead solids (RLS), and a variety of Type IP-1, IP-2, and 7A Type A IP-3 flexible containers for different transportation modes.

Rail cover - The RailPac® Railcar Liners are used for transporting waste by rail as either bulk hazardous or non-hazardous materials.

LiftPac® packaging - There are several choices in the LiftPac product category. All packaging is suitable for road, rail, water, and air transport as long as the hazardous materials contained are suitable for the packaging.

PacTec consultants are specialists in nuclear waste transportation containers and can help your business meet strict federal requirements. Contact a PacTec sales representative in your region for assistance.