The U.S. Department of Energy will transport used nuclear fuel to the repository by rail and road, inside massive, sealed containers that have undergone safety and durability testing.
Strong Safety Record
Used nuclear fuel consists of ceramic pellets encased in metal tubes. The fuel cannot explode, and the massive containers in which it is transported can protect public health and the environment even if subjected to the highest temperatures seen in transportation accidents involving chemicals or other flammable materials. After extensive studies, both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Academy of Sciences concluded that used nuclear fuel can be transported safely.
The NRC regulates container design and manufacturing to ensure that the containers maintain their integrity under routine transportation conditions and during severe accidents. The NRC must certify all container designs.
Containers must be able to withstand a sequence of crashes, fire and submersion in water without breaking open. The approved containers are massive, weighing 25 to 40 tons for truck shipments and 75 to 125 tons for rail shipments. Multiple layers of steel and other materials confine the radioactivity. Typically, for every ton of fuel, there are more than three tons of protective shielding.
Used nuclear fuel may be shipped only along specified highway routes. Shippers submit routes to the NRC for approval ahead of time and notify officials in the states through which the shipments travel. The NRC checks that a route conforms to Transportation Department regulations, requiring the most direct interstate route and avoiding large cities.
The U.S. Department of Energy plans to use rail for most of the shipments of used nuclear fuel for disposal at a repository. However, some shipments will require transport by road if rail is not accessible. For rail transport, DOE will use trains that will carry only used nuclear fuel. These dedicated trains offer increased security and shorter transit times.
Energy Department Transportation Planning
The Department of Energy’s Nuclear Fuels Storage and Transportation Planning Project is preparing for the large-scale transportation of used fuel to one or more interim storage facilities once they are developed. The agency is working to provide state, local and tribal organizations funding and technical assistance for public safety and emergency preparedness programs and to develop preliminary routes for shipments of used nuclear fuel.