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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.

Transport Canada amends TDGR – Marine Requirements and other miscellaneous changes

As reported by the Compliance Center, the December 13, 2017 edition of the Canada Gazette II contains the expected rewrite of Part 11 “Marine” requirements of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDGR). In addition, there are related changes in other parts, as well as some unrelated miscellaneous changes in other areas.

Marine Amendment

The most wide-reaching change, although perhaps of relatively minor significance to the general regulated community, is the replacement of the term “ship” with “vessel”. This, among other changes, is to update the TDGR to current Canada Shipping Act (CSA, and related regulations) terminology. Many aspects of Part 11 related to the CSA had not been updated since 2008.

Note: Interestingly, the referenced definition of “vessel” in the CSA includes all “means of propulsion”:
http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-10.15/page-1.html#h-2

This differs from the TDGR definitions for road and rail vehicles which expressly exclude “muscle power” as a means of propulsion. 

Other definition changes include elimination of the reference to “short run ferry”, previously defined in TDGR Part 1.3 as operating between points “not more than 3 km apart”. TDGR 1.30 special case exemption now refers only to “Ferry,” but describes within the exemption that it’s applicable to operating between two points “not more than 5 km apart.

The definition of an “inland voyage” now cites the CSA Cargo, Fumigation and Tackle regulations (CFTR):
http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2007-128/index.html

; which, in turn, defer to the Vessel Certificate regulations (VCR):
http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2007-31/

Other aspects of dangerous goods vessel shipment are also found in these CSA regulations.

One more definition that’s been changed to a citation is the one for a roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ship. The vessel is still referred to as a “ship”- since the definition cites the IMDG Code. For those without ready access to the IMDG, the current Ed. 38-16 version reads, in Chapter 1.2 (s. 1.2.1 Definitions):

“…Ro-ro ship (roll-on/roll-off ship) means a ship which has one or more decks, either closed or open, not normally subdivided in any way and generally running the entire length of the ship, carrying goods which are normally loaded and unloaded in a horizontal direction.”

Additional requirements now apply also to ferries regarding passenger vessel limitations, location of shipping documents and incident reporting.

Vessel Restrictions & Exemptions

Schedule 1 Column 8 restrictions regarding carrying DG on passenger vessels is further clarified by TDGR Part 1 sections 1.6 and new special case 1.10.

Gasoline and propane now have a Part 1 special case exemption 1.30.1 to facilitate fuel deliveries and reduce the need for equivalency certificates.

UN3156 is also now permitted in 25 L quantities on passenger vessels.

Mercurous chloride (calomel) is no longer included in the s. 1.46 special case exemption list.

The requirement to mark the flash point on packages with Class 3 contents (s. 4.13) has been removed as it was never an IMDG requirement.

IMDG v. TDGR

Additionally, the often-confusing reference to “Home Trade Voyages” in determining the applicability of the IMDG Code, versus the “standard” TDGR extension of ground requirements, has been replaced by a direct, simplified explanation. Voyages where the vessel (oops – I almost said ship!) is within 120 nautical miles – i.e. 222 km- from shore are considered non-IMDG unless the vessel travels south of the ports of New York or Portland, Oregon, or to another foreign destination. Thus, vessel transport of dangerous goods to St. Pierre and Miquelon (territories of France), despite being within 20 km or so from Newfoundland, require compliance with IMDG.

Inland (mostly “fresh water”) voyages between Canada and other countries – e.g. Great Lakes or rivers to the US – remain excluded from mandatory IMDG compliance. Conversely, vessels registered in Canada but transporting between two foreign destinations, remain under IMDG requirements.

Other Amendments

Changes not directly related to Part 11 topics include correction of some typographical and miscellaneous errors in the TDGR or website html information.

Examples include re-entering the PG II information for UN1790, UN2734 on the website; editing SP 159 to clarify that the new Class 9 Lithium Battery label illustration is only used for labels and not used for placarding purposes – standard Class 9 placards are used (as is the case in air, ocean and US 49 CFR); and updating ICAO references in Part 12.

The Table in 5.16 has been repealed due to the updates in the referenced CSA standards.

Transition:

The changes are effective as of the December 13th CG II publication date and have a transition period of 6 months for mandatory implementation. The CGII document which includes a discussion of the changes in the RIAS (Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement) is found at:

http://canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2017/2017-12-13/html/sor-dors253-eng.html