Friday, February 10, 2006

NAS Releases Report on Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Yesterday the National Academy of Sciences released a report entitled, Going the Distance? The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States.

Here's what NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Marv Fertel, had to say about the report:

"Overall, the National Academies report is a strong endorsement of the used nuclear fuel transportation program that has operated well and operated safely in the United States for the past four decades. Specifically, the nuclear energy industry agrees with the three major findings of the National Academies report:

"“First, that there are no fundamental technical barriers to the safe transport of used nuclear fuel. This conclusion is supported by the fact that more than 3,000 shipments of used nuclear fuel have been made safely in the United States over the past 40 years. Even in the approximately 10 instances where accidents have occurred, no releases of the waste packages'’ radioactive contents have resulted, and public health and safety has been protected.

"Second, that existing international standards and U.S. regulations ensure the effectiveness of shipping containers over a wide range of transport conditions. In short, there's no need to go back to the regulatory drawing board because a program with strong public health and safety protections already is in place.

"And third, that there are opportunities to further implement operational controls and restrictions that will make this program even safer and better than it already is. The use of dedicated trains for rail shipments is a leading example of a safeguard that should be adopted to maximize safety of used fuel shipments.

"The industry also concurs with the National Academies'’ main conclusions with regard to testing of shipping containers --– namely that full-scale testing of shipping containers is worthwhile as part of an integrated testing program that includes scale models and computer simulation, but that full-scale tests are not necessary for regulatory certification of the containers, and that testing of packages to fail, or to destruction, is not warranted for certification. The ability of containers to serve their protective function during severe conditions can be proven without the excessive testing that would cause their destruction.

"There are a few instances where we do not agree with the report. We do not believe there is further value to be gained from additional study of long-duration fire scenarios that the report recommends. Intensive study of long-duration, fully engulfing fires already has been done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We also disagree with the report'’s call for negotiations or federal legislation to achieve shipment of older used fuel first. Safety measures already are so strong and the risks of harmful impacts already are so low that one cannot justify the burden of additional expenses and potential litigation that this recommendation would cause.

"“The concern voiced by the National Academies that it did not have access to classified or otherwise restricted information does not negate the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy have completed research on the physical security of used fuel containers and of transportation. As a result, the agencies have taken additional steps already to enhance physical security in this area.

"As the federal government'’s nuclear waste management program continues, the industry looks forward to working with Congress, the administration and regulatory bodies and emergency responders at all levels of government to maintain the highest levels of safety in this program."
In addition, NPR did a story on the report that aired yesterday evening. Thanks to reader Paul Primavera for the NPR pointer. You can read more at the Deseret Morning News.

UPDATE: To get a copy of the four page summary of the report, click here. For a combined copy of the summary and the recommendations contained in the report, click here.

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Paul said...

The Telegraph/ London, UK

Lorry leaked radioactive beam for three hours
(Filed: 18/02/2006)

A highly radioactive beam was emitted from a protective flask as it was driven 130 miles, for three hours, across northern England on a lorry, a court heard yesterday.

It was "pure good fortune" no one was dangerously contaminated when a "plug" was left off a 2.5 ton container carrying radioactive material on a lorry, Leeds Crown Court was told. The flask belonging to AEA Technology was being used to transport a piece of decommissioned cancer treatment equipment from Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, to the Sellafield complex, Cumbria on March 11, 2002.

A judge was told how the container was "found to be emitting a narrow beam of radiation, of a very high dose rate, vertically down from that package base".

He heard how the leak was present at the hospital and Windscale as well as during the journey between the two.

Mark Harris, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said: "Through pure good fortune no one involved in the removal, containment and transfer of the source may have been directly exposed to the beam.

"The risk of such exposure was undoubtedly present - at Cookridge, during the journey and at Windscale.

"That occurred because a shield plug - an integral part of the approved packaging in which the source was required to be carried - had been omitted. We say the incident was serious."

Mr Harris said the radiation dose rates measured at Windscale "were in the order of 100 to 1,000 times above what would normally be considered a very high dose rate and measurement was beyond the capabilities of normal hand-held monitoring equipment."

Mr Harris told the court it was fortunate the beam had gone vertically down. If an accident had caused it to emit horizontally the beam would have emitted dangerous radiation for 980ft.

AEA Technology, a privatised arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, has admitted a series of breaches of Health and Safety regulations, the Ionising Radiations Regulations and the Radioactive Material (Road Transport) Regulations.

The firm was due to be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court yesterday, but Judge Norman Jones decided that he needed more time to read papers and postponed setting the level of the fine until Monday. The HSE has already asked for costs of £151,323.

John Hand, QC, defending, said that the company lost £1 million following the incident as it reorganised the subsidiary involved, which it has now sold off.

Mr Hand admitted that employees of the firm had been "relaxed and somewhat cavalier" at the hospital and had even ticked forms to say they had completed tasks which they had not. Judge Jones said: "We have to remember we're dealing with the movement in public areas and long distance movement, with very, very dangerous materials and therefore the greatest of care is demanded of those engaged in that movement."

But Judge Norman Jones decided he needed more time to read papers and postponed setting the level of the fine until Monday.

Anonymous said...

Apples and oranges. The initial article talks about fuel shipment, whereas the UK case was source material. I have shipped both. Requirements for fuel shipment are much more stringent. The stuff I helped package for WIPP would never have had the kind of problem the source material shipment had.

BTW, the headline for the UK story was bogus. You don't have a "leak" of a "radioactive beam". Radiation is simply emitted, no matter what. If there is an exposure hazard from lack of shielding, that is what it is, exposure, not a "leak".