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What are the safety risks when transporting radioactive materials?

Written by Stephen Pike, Argon Electronics

Radioactive materials have a wide variety of applications within the fields of medicine, power generation, manufacturing and the military – and just as with any other product, there are times when these materials may need to be moved from one location to another.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are around three million shipments of radioactive materials to, from or within the US every year.  In the UK meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) has reported that somewhere in the region of half a million packages containing radioactive materials are transported to, from or within the UK annually.

Regulation of transport of radioactive materials

Ensuring the safety and security of the transport of radioactive material – whether be it by road, rail, air or sea – is understandably a major priority and one that is highly regulated, depending upon the type, and the quantity, of radioactivity that is being transported.

Materials that are deemed to be low in radioactivity may be able to be shipped with no, or very few, controls.

Materials that are considered to be highly radioactive will be subject to controlled routes, segregation, additional security and specialist packaging and labelling measures.

The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has a primary role to play in advising on the safe and secure transportation of radioactive substances across a wide of sectors – from the movement of decommissioned nuclear reactors or the carriage of irradiated nuclear fuel to the shipping of medical radio-pharmaceuticals, or the transport of sealed radioactive sources used within the construction or oil industries.

What constitutes a radiation transport event?

The normal transport of radioactive materials can result in transport workers (and sometimes even members of the public) being exposed to small radiation doses.

The strict regulatory conditions of transport however are designed to minimise these exposures.

Accidents and incidents can occur for a variety of reasons – from seemingly minor administrative errors, to problems arising from insufficient packaging, mishaps that occur during loading or unloading of consignments or the theft or loss of a radioactive material being carried.

When such events do occur there is the risk of radiological consequences not just for those transport workers in the immediate vicinity but for emergency responders, HazMat personnel and the wider public.

According to the Radioactive Materials Transport Event Database (RAMTED) there were a total of 16 accidents or incidents involving the transport of radiological materials in the UK in 2012.

These included the receipt of a flask from a nuclear power station where one of the lid-chock locking bolts was found to be loose; the failure of lifting equipment when removing a type 30B uranium hexafluoride cylinder from its protective shipping packaging; and an incident involving the stealing of pipes and plates from a scrap meal facility that were found to have traces of orphan radioactive sources.

Public Health England differentiates radiation transport events into one of the five following categories:

  1. A transport accident (TA) – which is defined as any event that occurs during the carriage of a consignment of radioactive material and that prevents either the consignment, or the vehicle itself, from being able to complete its journey.
  2. A transport incident (TI) – comprising any form of event, other than an accident, that may have occurred prior to or during the carriage of the consignment and that may have resulted in the loss or damage of the consignment or the unforeseen exposure of transport workers or members of the public.
  3. A handling accident (HA) – encompassing any accident that occurs during the loading, shipping, storing or unloading of a consignment of radioactive material and that results in damage to the consignment.
  4. A handling incident (HI) – defined as any handling event, other than an accident, that may occur during the loading, shipping , storing or unloading of the radioactive consignment.
  5. Contamination (C) – defined an an event where radioactive contamination is found on the surface of a package or where the conveyance of a radioactive material is found to be in excess of the regulatory limit.

The role of radiation safety training

When formulating a radiation training strategy, it is vital that personnel are adequately trained to handle the hazards and the risks associated with incidents involving radioactive materials.

Radiation safety training and development programmes should ideally provide personnel with both the knowledge they need and the practical skills that they will rely on in order to carry out their duties safely and effectively.

While most radiation detection equipment is relatively easy to use, the key lies in ensuring that trainees understand the significance of the readings that they get, that they can recognise the implications of changes in units of measurement and that they have the opportunity to train in as life-like a setting as possible.


About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators. He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

Amendments to the Canadian TDGR (Emergency Response Assistance Plan)

Recent amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (the Regulations) seek to enhance response to releases of dangerous goods; to ensure more effective, timely responses to incidents and clarify expectations of handlers and transporters of dangerous goods.

  • Those who “handle” or “transport” dangerous goods exceeding specified quantities are subject to the Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) requirements if there is no one “offering for transport” or “importing” the dangerous goods.
  • Applications for approval of an ERAP will now require a “potential incident analysis” that includes, at minimum, the four scenarios set out in s. 7.3 of the Regulations.
  • A person with an approved ERAP can authorize another to use it if authorization is provided in writing, without notifying Transport Canada.
  • A person who holds an ERAP must implement it when there is a release or anticipated release that endangers public safety.
  • A person who is required to report a release or anticipated release of dangerous goods must telephone the ERAP telephone number to report the incident if the expected or actual quantity of the release is in excess of the specified quantities.
  • Whenever an ERAP is implemented, an ERAP implementation report must be filed with CANUTEC at 1-888-CANUTEC (1-888-226-8832).
  • An incident report must be made in the event of a release or anticipated release of dangerous goods.

Background

In Canada, the transportation of dangerous goods is regulated under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 (TDG Act), the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDG Regulations), and standards incorporated by reference into the TDG Regulations. The TDG Act and TDG Regulations comprise the regulatory framework for the ERAP program.

The TDG Act requires any person importing or offering for transport certain higher risk dangerous goods (for example chlorine, propane, crude oil) in quantities specified by the TDG Regulations to have an approved ERAP. In cases where no person is importing or offering for transport, persons handling or transporting these dangerous goods require an ERAP.

The scale of transportation incidents involving the release or anticipated release of dangerous goods and the danger they present require a different approach and strategy than most local authorities are trained to deal with. An ERAP is intended to assist emergency responders by providing them with specialized expertise, equipment, or response teams when needed. It also ensures that the risks associated with transporting these dangerous goods are well understood, and that appropriate measures are in place.

Between 2007 and 2017, TC recorded approximately 360 transportation incidents involving the implementation of an ERAP. There are currently over 1 000 ERAPs approved by the Minister covering nearly 400 dangerous goods.

A number of recommendations from the ERTF were related to improving the ERAP program. These recommendations focused on clarifying the processes for implementing an ERAP and collecting meaningful data to foster the continuous improvement of the ERAP program.

The primary objectives of the Regulations Amending the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (Emergency Response Assistance Plan) are to address the recommendations of the ERTF to improve the ERAP program and enhance public safety in the event of an incident during the transportation of dangerous goods. These objectives support the overall strategy to promote a safe, secure and efficient transportation system that contributes to Canada’s economic development and security objectives.

Economic Impact of Amendments

According to Transport Canada, these amendments will not result in nationwide cost impacts greater than $1 million annually, and they will not result in costs for small businesses that are disproportionately high. The small business lens will therefore not apply to these proposed amendments.

View more information on these amendments

Halliburton building explosives facility in Nova Scotia

As reported by the CBC, International oil services company Halliburton is preparing to open an explosives storage facility in Nova Scotia’s Hants County next month. The location of the facility is the former barite mine, approximately two kilometres off the main road. It will be used to store explosives that are used in oil and gas exploration.

Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Explosives Safety and Security Branch (ESSB) administers the Canadian Explosives Act and Regulations. Manufacturers, importers, exporters, transporters, sellers, or users of explosives are all subject to the Explosives Act and Regulations.

The buildings the explosives will be stored in are specially designed to help contain explosions.  Emily Mir, a spokesperson for Halliburton, said the facility will be comprised of several secured storage modules surrounded by a steel fence.

Explosives will be trucked from Halliburton’s Jet Research Center in Alvarado, Texas, to the Nova Scotia storage facility, where they will be stored until they’re needed at other locations in Eastern Canada. Explosives are used to create holes in the steel pipes at the bottom of exploration wells to allow oil or gas to flow into the pipe for extraction. They are also used to help remove pipes from wells when they are no longer in production.

The approximate location of a Halliburton storage facility that will begin operating at the end of February. – Google

Local politicians and residents have raised concerns about the facility and claim they have been kept in the dark about the construction and operation of the facility.

Abraham Zebian, the warden of the Municipality of the District of West Hants, said he was caught off guard by CBC’s questions about the project, as he had little information about it. But he said he does have concerns.

“That would be concerning to any resident, to have that in their backyard,” he said to the CBC. “Disasters ring a bell to me that have happened in Nova Scotia historically. That’s the first thing you start thinking about.”

The Barite mine where the explosives storage facility will located operated for approximately 40 years and used dynamite on a daily basis. An an unfortunate blast was made in one of the large fault zones in 1970 which resulted in flooding of the mine. It ended production 1978. During its operation it was Canada’s largest barite mine and one of the largest deposits in the world. 

The previous owner of the site had a tailings pond that overflowed into the Minas Basin. After Halliburton acquired the property they demolished the old buildings and built a safer berm around the tailings pond.

Ms. Mir told the CBC that the explosives will have the same grade of charges as those used in the mining industry. The amount of explosives stored on site will depend on demand, she said, adding that Halliburton expects to store substantially less than the company’s permit allows.

Legislation

Explosives are highly regulated by Natural Resources Canada under the Explosives Act and Regulations. Transportation of the explosives would need to conform with the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and Regulations. Ms. Mir said Halliburton received all necessary permits from Canada’s Department of Natural Resources – Explosives Regulatory Division for storage.

The Nova Scotia Environment Ministry, Margaret Miller, confirmed with the CBC that no provincial permits were required for the storage site.

The company did apply to Municipality of the District of West Hants and received a permit for the facility. The permit allows for an industrial accessory steel storage building for storage relating to future offshore oil and gas industry. The permit was issued Nov. 13, 2018, for a 16-foot by 60-foot single storage building.

The explosives storage facility is being built on a piece of property near Walton, N.S., that is owned by Halliburton. (Photo Credit: Robert Short/CBC)

​Ms. Mir said Halliburton has obtained all the necessary permits for the project from Natural Resources Canada as well as a building and development permit from the municipality.

The company said it has hired for three positions at the facility, which is expected to begin operations at the end of February.