You might wonder if it’s safe to transport spent fuel from many plant sites in many different parts of the country. The answer is “yes” and here’s why:
The spent fuel casks will be transported to the centralized facility primarily by dedicated train. At no time, during shipment or storage, will the casks be opened or the fuel handled in any way.
Members of the Industry are working closely with the railroad industry to design and test a new rail car to carry the heavy transportation casks. The new rail car has many advanced safety features, including electro-pneumatic braking, for shorter stopping distances; devices on each wheel bearing that monitor continuously for vibration, temperature and resistance to turning; shelved couplers that prevent accidental de-coupling; and a global positioning system that will allow constant monitoring of train location. Unlike other flatbed rail cars, this car body is fastened to wheel sets. The car has four trucks (wheel sets) instead of two to spread the weight out, limit wear on tracks, and facilitate turning on curves, thus decreasing the potential for a derailment. Prototype cars have been being built and tested.
The shipment of spent fuel does require careful handling. That is why the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Transportation have such strict standards for shipping highly radioactive material.
The Industry will develop transportation plans well before any shipments begin. Plans will comply with U.S. Department of Transportation and Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. Route selection will be coordinated with railroads and U.S. DOT; states through which shipments will pass will be consulted in the planning process. The actual timing of shipments will be confidential for obvious security reasons.
The transportation of spent nuclear fuel is nothing new even though you don’t hear much about spent fuel shipments. In fact, in more than 40 years of shipping spent fuel in this country, and with nearly 3,000 shipments, there has never been an accident that resulted in the loss of any radioactive material from a container or a radiation-related injury to a member of the public.
Radioactive materials are packaged for shipping according to their potential risk. For spent fuel, the fuel rods are sealed in a stainless steel cylinder, then encased in heavy-metal shielding plus two more layers of steel. The cask measures about seven feet in diameter and 17 feet in length. Each cask may weigh as much as 125 tons.
The design of the transportation cask the Industry will use has been certified by the NRC. This means that the casks have been tested through computer simulation and scale model tests to ensure they meet the regulations and will protect their cargo and the public in any transportation accident.