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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
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1
Introduction

The National Academies’ Board on Radioactive Waste Management1 and Transportation Research Board initiated this study to address what they perceived to be a national need for an independent, objective, and authoritative analysis of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste2 transportation in the United States. The objectives of this study (Sidebar 1.1) were to identify key current and future technical and societal concerns about the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States and technical and policy options for addressing those concerns and managing transportation risks.

This study also examined the selection of highway and rail routes for shipping research reactor spent fuel between U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities in the United States (Sidebar 1.2). This additional examination was requested by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) at the direction of Congress3 after the study was under way. With the consent of the National Academies and the original study sponsors, the schedule for the study was extended to allow additional time for information gathering,

1  

The Board on Radioactive Waste Management was merged with another National Academies board in early 2005 to form the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board.

2  

Also referred to as spent fuel and high-level waste in this report.

3  

Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, P.L. 108-7, February 20, 2003, Division I, Section 334.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
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deliberation, and expansion of this report to address this added study charge.

The “current concerns” referred to in the original study charge (Sidebar 1.1) are associated with currently operating transportation programs and with current planning efforts for future transportation programs. The congressionally mandated charge (Sidebar 1.2) to examine the routing of research reactor spent fuel is a good example of a concern about a currently operating program. The “future concerns” referred to in the original charge are associated primarily with plans to transport spent fuel and high-level waste for interim storage or permanent disposal (see Section 1.3.2). As described in some detail in Chapter 5, these future concerns relate primarily to the difficulties in scaling-up transportation systems from the relatively small, centralized programs that presently exist for moving small quantities of spent fuel to the more complex decentralized programs that will likely be

SIDEBAR 1.1
Transportation of Radioactive Waste Study Task

The principal task of this study is to develop a high-level synthesis of key technical and societal issues for spent fuel/high-level waste transport and to identify technical and policy options for addressing these issues and managing transportation risk. The principal focus of this study is on the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States, but the study will draw on international experiences as well as experiences with transporting other waste types. The study addresses and provides findings and recommendations on the following four questions:

  1. What are the principal risks for transporting (including container handling, modal transfers, and conveyance) radioactive waste, and how do they compare with other societal risks? To what extent have these risks been addressed by previous analyses?

  2. At present, what are the principal technical and societal concerns for transporting radioactive waste? To what extent have these concerns been addressed, and what additional work is needed?

  3. What are likely to be the key principal technical and societal concerns for radioactive waste transportation in the future, especially over the next two decades?

  4. What options are available to address these concerns, for example, options involving changes to planned transportation routes, modes, procedures, or other limitations/restrictions; or options for improving the communication of transportation risks to decision makers and the public?

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

SIDEBAR 1.2
Transportation Routing Study Task

The principal task of this study will be to assess the manner in which the Department of Energy and its contractors:

  1. Select potential highway and rail routes for the shipment of spent nuclear fuel from foreign and domestic research nuclear reactors.

  2. Select specific land routes for such shipments.

  3. Conduct assessments, if any, of the risks associated with such shipments.

The following factors will be considered in conducting the assessments in point (3):

  1. Proximity of routes to major population centers and the risks associated with shipments of spent nuclear fuel from research nuclear reactors through densely populated areas.

  2. Current traffic and accident data with respect to the routes under consideration.

  3. Quality of the roads comprising the routes under consideration.

  4. Emergency response capabilities along the routes under consideration.

  5. Proximity of the routes under consideration to places or venues (including sports stadiums, convention centers, concert halls and theaters, and other venues) where large numbers of people gather.

The assessment should identify deficiencies, if any, in current procedures for selecting routes that have important potential health or safety consequences. In making recommendations to address these deficiencies, a clear distinction should be made between technical and policy considerations. Recommendations should be directed at competent regulating authorities or the United States Congress.

required to move large quantities of spent fuel and high-level waste to interim storage or permanent disposal.4

1.1 STUDY PROCESS

Most National Research Council studies are undertaken in response to requests from federal agencies, the White House, or Congress. In contrast, the transportation study described in Sidebar 1.1 was self-initiated by the

4  

This report refers to these two types of programs as small-quantity shipping programs and large-quantity shipping programs. While there is no precise quantity demarcation between these two program types, the former involves shipment on the order of tens of metric tons of spent fuel or high-level waste, while the latter involves shipment on the order of hundreds to thousands of metric tons.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

National Research Council. Three federal agencies and two not-for-profit private organizations recognized the importance of this study and provided the necessary financial support to enable the National Research Council to carry it out. These organizations are DOE, DOT, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and National Cooperative Highway Research Program. The National Academies also contributed funding to this effort.

The study was carried out using established National Research Council procedures to ensure its objectivity and freedom from inappropriate influences of sponsors and other outside organizations. A committee of 16 experts was provisionally appointed by the chair of the National Research Council to carry out the study. These appointments were finalized after a careful screening for conflicts of interest and consideration of public comments on committee balance and bias. The committee had diverse expertise and perspectives, including experts with experience in a variety of transportation sectors and related technical disciplines. The biographical sketches of the committee members (Appendix A) illustrate their collective range of technical and policy expertise.

The committee was responsible for designing and executing this study. It made an effort to reach out broadly to obtain information and perspectives, and it benefited greatly from the willingness of a large number of individuals and organizations to share information and viewpoints. The committee held six information-gathering meetings in different regions of the country to address its original charge. The committee chose the locations of its meetings to enhance attendance and participation of interested individuals and organizations. An additional information-gathering meeting was added to address the congressionally mandated study charge (Sidebar 1.2). A list of presentations received at these meetings is provided in Appendix B.

The committee also visited Yucca Mountain and some of the potential highway and rail routes within Nevada. Subgroups of the committee visited a spent fuel storage facility at an operating nuclear power plant (Exelon Nuclear Corporation’s Dresden Plant in Chicago); the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado, to learn about rail transportation research and development programs; and Germany and the United Kingdom to learn about European transportation programs.

Open-microphone sessions were scheduled at each of the committee’s information-gathering meetings so that any interested individual could speak directly to the committee. The committee also gathered a large amount of written material, ranging from peer-reviewed scientific articles to advocacy papers, for use in its deliberations.

The committee established an electronic notification list so that interested parties could be informed of upcoming meetings. Additionally, the

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

committee established a Web site (http://www.national-academies.org/transportationofradwaste) for the study, where copies of the meeting agendas and electronic copies of the meeting presentations were posted. This site allowed visitors to provide feedback to the committee. The National Academies Press carried out an informal survey of selected government and nongovernmental organizations to obtain feedback to guide the future development of information products from this study.

The committee’s final report was subjected to National Research Council peer review before being approved for unlimited public release. The report was reviewed by 15 people selected by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council to provide a diversity of disciplinary expertise and viewpoints. The reviewers were asked to comment on whether the report addressed the study charges (Sidebars 1.1 and 1.2) in a fair and objective manner and whether the findings and recommendations were supported by fact and analysis. The committee was required by the National Research Council to make appropriate revisions to its report to address those comments.

The report’s findings and recommendations were not provided to the study sponsors or to the public until the review process had been completed and the report was approved for release. This is standard National Research Council procedure to ensure that no outside organization is able to influence the outcome of its studies inappropriately.

The committee heard a wide range of opinions about spent fuel and high-level waste transportation during its information-gathering meetings. It was presented with a range of views about the safety and security5 of spent fuel transportation in the United States and—although it was not within the purview of the study—about the desirability of a federal repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, or a centralized interim storage facility in Utah. It quickly became clear to the committee that there are many individuals and groups with strongly held “pro” and “anti” positions on issues related to nuclear technology, and that some of these positions are expressed in terms of support for or opposition to the transport of spent fuel and high-level waste. This report is written in the hopes of providing these individuals and groups with a broad range of factual information and analyses to enable them to reach their own conclusions about spent fuel and high-level waste transportation, and also to inform future planning and decision making by federal agencies and the private sector.

5  

Safety refers to measures taken to protect spent fuel and high-level waste during handling and transport from failure, damage, human error, and other inadvertent acts. Security refers to measures taken to protect spent fuel and high-level waste during handling and transport from sabotage, attacks, and theft.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

Although this is a technical report, it was written with the intention that it be accessible to non-experts. The committee has endeavored to keep the use of technical terms and acronyms to a minimum and to provide clear definitions when such terms must be used. A glossary of terms and a list of acronyms are provided in Appendixes D and E, respectively.

1.2 STRATEGY FOR ADDRESSING THE STUDY CHARGES

The original study charge (Sidebar 1.1) was broadly scoped to give the committee flexibility in carrying out this study. The committee found it necessary to make several explicit choices to narrow the scope of its charge to meet the study schedule. In this section, the committee explains these choices to set readers’ expectations for the remainder of this report.

The original study charge directed the committee to examine the risks of transporting spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States. Risk is a multidimensional concept: It includes the health and safety risks that potentially arise from exposures of workers and members of the public to radiation from spent fuel and high-level waste transport. Such exposures can have both short-term and long-term health and safety consequences. There is another broad class of risks, referred to as social risks, that is described in this report. Social risks arise from social processes and human perceptions and can have economic, institutional, and psychological consequences. The health and safety risks and social risks are collectively referred to as societal risks in the statement of task given in Sidebar 1.1.

The committee examined the health and safety and social risks associated with spent fuel and high-level waste transportation activities (Chapter 3) in isolation from the larger systems in which they are embedded. Programs for transporting spent fuel and high-level waste for interim storage or permanent disposal represent the “back ends” of much larger technological systems: Commercial spent fuel transport represents the back end of the nuclear electric power generation system of the United States, whose needs, benefits, and risks are the subject of controversy for some members of the public; research reactor spent fuel transport represents the back end of systems that generate scientific and medical benefits for U.S. society; and defense spent fuel and high-level waste transport represents the back end of systems that generated plutonium for national defense.

A risk-benefit analysis of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation within the context of these larger technological systems, although certainly desirable, would involve the consideration of issues that are well beyond the scope of this study. Such issues would include, for example, national energy policy, global climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and homeland security. Such an analysis would also have to address the risks and benefits of transporting spent fuel and high-level waste to interim storage or

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

permanent disposal sites versus leaving it at reactor sites for an indeterminate period of time.

While comparisons of the transport versus leave-in-place options are conceptually simple, the analysis is not. Each of these options involves different kinds of risks that have different spatial and time-scale dependencies. The transport option involves the transfer of risk across populations and geographic regions, possibly leading to significant disproportionate impacts: for example, the transfer of nuclear materials such as spent fuel from existing storage sites to new storage or disposal sites that did not previously contain any nuclear materials or activities. Analysis of these options would also have to consider important secondary effects: The transport of spent fuel and high-level waste, for instance, might result in improvements to transportation infrastructure or first-responder training. These improvements could result in a reduction of other types of hazardous materials transport risks.

The committee concluded that while such an analysis would be a useful contribution to the policy process, it could not be carried out in the abstract but would have to examine real scenarios. Instead, the committee operated within the constraints of federal policy decisions, beginning with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as described in Section 1.3.2, which set the nation on a clear path to transport spent fuel and high-level waste for permanent disposal. The intent of this study is to enhance the technical and societal bases for the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste, regardless of their ultimate destination.

The committee also decided to focus its examinations on the transport of spent fuel and to give less attention to the transport of defense high-level radioactive waste. The committee judged that the transport of spent fuel posed more important technical and societal challenges because most spent fuel is generated commercially (see Table 1.1); it is being stored at a large number of sites across the United States; and it has been transported on the nation’s road and rail systems for several decades.

Defense high-level waste, on the other hand, is government generated and owned and is being stored at only four government sites (Figure 1.1), all of which have direct rail access. High-level waste has radiological properties similar to spent fuel, especially for fission product inventories, which are the greatest contributors to potential external radiation doses during normal transport.6 However, high-level waste will be transported in an inert solid form, and the process used to solidify this waste (see Sidebar 1.3) eliminates the gaseous fission products that are present in spent fuel. Under

6  

Some long-lived radionuclides, primarily uranium and plutonium, are removed from high-level waste during reprocessing.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

TABLE 1.1 Inventories of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Waste in the United States

Material

Approximate Quantity at End of 2005

Commercial spent fuel

54,000 MTHMa

DOE-managed spent fuelb

2433 MTHM

Colorado (Fort St. Vrain)

15 MTHM

Hanford Site

2129 MTHM

Idaho National Lab

277 MTHM

Savannah River

27 MTHM

High-level waste

386,000 cubic meters of unprocessed waste,c which when processed will consist ofd

21,000 cubic meters

58,000 metric tonse

22,000 canistersf

NOTE: MTHM = metric tons of heavy metal.

aThis quantity is an estimate and was obtained by adjusting the 2002 DOE Energy Information Administration (DOE-EIA) estimate of 47,023 MTHM to account for spent fuel discharges during 2003–2005. Those discharges were estimated using the average of the annual discharges reported by DOE-EIA for the period 1999–2002. The result was rounded to the nearest 1000 MTHM.

bData from DOE, written communication. Includes production reactor fuel, naval spent fuel, foreign and domestic research reactor fuel, and DOE-managed commercial spent fuel.

cData from DOE (2005a) for Savannah River and written communications to the National Academies for Hanford and Idaho.

dData on the processed waste from DOE (2002a, Table A-27).

eThis is the processed mass of the waste, not MTHM.

fCanisters contain high-level waste that has been processed (vitrified) in glass matrices. The canisters are 24 inches (60 centimeters) in diameter by 10 or 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) in length. This number is an estimate because only a small fraction of the high-level waste at DOE sites has been immobilized (see Sidebar 1.3).

current plans, high-level waste will be transported to the federal repository in the same types of packages used to transport commercial spent fuel, but high-level waste shipments will comprise fewer than 20 percent of the total planned number of shipments to the federal repository at Yucca Mountain under the “mostly rail” option now favored by DOE (see Table 3.8).

The committee describes the high-level waste locations and inventories and the plans for disposing of it elsewhere in this chapter. It also reviews the risk estimates for transport of high-level waste to the federal repository as part of its risk examinations in Chapter 3. The committee judged that its focused examination of spent fuel transport would likely identify and bound

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

FIGURE 1.1 Top: Locations of current spent fuel and high-level waste storage sites, Yucca Mountain, and Private Fuel Storage. Middle: National railroad transportation grid. Bottom: National interstate highway system. SOURCE: modified from DOE (2002a).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

SIDEBAR 1.3
Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste

The nuclear fuel for most commercial reactors consists of pellets of uranium dioxide surrounded by a zirconium oxide alloy (zircaloy) fuel cladding that is formed into long rods. These fuel rods are between 3.5 and 4.5 meters in length and are bundled together into fuel assemblies (see figure), each weighing between about 600 and 1500 pounds (275 to 685 kilograms). The uranium dioxide pellets contain two isotopes of uranium: About 3 to 5 percent by weight is uranium-235, which sustains the fission chain reaction in a nuclear reactor, and about 95 to 97 percent is uranium-238, which can capture a neutron to produce plutonium and other heavy elements (known as actinides). The fission of uranium-235 and plutonium in an operating reactor generates heat, which is used to produce steam. This steam drives turbines that produce electricity. The fission and neutron-capture reactions also convert uranium, plutonium, and other actinides into nearly 300 other radionuclides in the fuel. These include fission products such as strontium-90 and cesium-137 and actinides such as neptunium-237.

As uranium-235 is consumed by fission reactions in an operating reactor, the fuel gradually loses its ability to sustain a chain reaction at full power. After a period of residence in the reactor (typically four to six years for most currently operating reactors), the fuel is considered to be spent and is removed from the reactor. At the time of discharge from a reactor, a spent fuel assembly typically generates on the order of tens of kilowatts of heat and radiation doses on the order of thousands of rads per hour (see Sidebar 3.2) at its surface. It must be cooled and heavily shielded to protect workers and the public. A person standing next to an unshielded spent fuel assembly could receive a lethal dose of radiation in a very short time: on the order of minutes for freshly discharged fuel with a high fission product content. Heat production and radioactivity diminish with time as shorter-lived radionuclides decay away. However, some longer-lived radionuclides persist in the spent fuel for hundreds of thousands of years.

High-level radioactive waste is the liquid by-product of the first stage of chemical reprocessing of spent fuel. Civilian reprocessing of commercial spent fuel is used to recover the uranium and plutonium in the spent fuel for recycling into fresh fuel.a Reprocessing of fuel from defense production reactors was used to recover plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. High-level waste contains most of the radioactive constituents of the spent fuel except for long-lived radionuclides such as uranium and plutonium. This liquid waste also contains a variety of organic and inorganic chemicals from processing operations.

High-level waste is solidified before it can be transported for interim storage or disposal. The current U.S. technology for solidifying high-level waste is vitrification in borosilicate glass. High-level waste is processed to reduce its volume and remove chemicals that would interfere with the glass-forming process. This processed waste is mixed with molten glass, and the mixture is poured into stainless steel canisters and allowed to solidify (see figure). Twenty-five percent (by mass) or higher waste loadings in the glass can typically be achieved with current technologies. Like spent fuel, the high-level waste canisters generate heat and intense radiation fields. They must be heavily shielded to protect workers and the public.

a  

As noted previously, the United States does not currently reprocess commercial spent fuel, but power-reactor fuel is reprocessed by some other countries.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

Top: Fuel rods are bundled together into fuel assemblies as shown here. These fuel assemblies are for a boiling water reactor. Bottom: Canister of high-level waste from the West Valley Demonstration Project. The canister is 2 feet (0.6 meter) in diameter, 10 feet (3 meters) long, and weighs about 2 metric tons. SOURCES: Top photo courtesy of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Bottom photo courtesy West Valley Nuclear Services Company.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

the risks and the technical and societal challenges for transport of high-level waste.

The committee also did not address the security risks of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation in this report. Transportation security has received a great deal of media and public attention since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. In fact, several presenters at the committee’s information-gathering meetings highlighted this issue as an important current concern for transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States.

The committee explored the feasibility of including a substantive examination of transportation security risks in this report. The committee determined that there is a rich literature in existence that could inform such an examination. However, much of this literature is classified or otherwise restricted from public access, and most committee members do not have the necessary security clearances to access it. At the committee’s request, staff from the USNRC’s Spent Fuel Project Office provided a classified briefing to four committee members and one staff member with security clearances. This briefing provided an overview of current USNRC-sponsored studies to assess the vulnerability of transportation packages to certain types of terrorist attacks. This briefing confirmed the committee’s initial view that adequate information exists to undertake a substantive examination.

The committee also requested written guidelines from the USNRC on the public disclosure of information from these and related vulnerability studies. Commission staff were supportive of this request but were unable to provide the necessary guidelines in time for use in this study.7 The committee concluded that, given these information-access difficulties and the lack of written guidelines for using such information, it could not provide a substantive examination of transportation security in this report.

As will be discussed in Chapter 3, the committee judged that transportation security remains a critical technical issue with important societal implications for spent fuel and high-level waste transportation in the United States. While the committee could not examine transportation security in this report, it judged that this issue could be addressed in a substantive fashion by a future committee if it is given unrestricted access to the classified literature on this topic.

1.3 BACKGROUND ON SPENT FUEL AND HIGH-LEVEL WASTE

Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste (Sidebar 1.3) are the by-products of commercial nuclear energy generation, defense plutonium

7  

The guidelines were still under internal review within the Commission when the committee held its last meeting in July 2005.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

production, and research and medical activities that utilize nuclear reactors or fission product nuclides. In the United States, these waste by-products are now being stored at more than 70 sites in 31 states (Figure 1.1). Current national policy, which is embodied in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA; see Section 1.3.2), calls for these materials to be transported and permanently disposed of in an underground repository that is licensed, constructed, and operated by the federal government.8 The federal government is now attempting to site and construct a repository for this purpose at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (see Figure 1.1). The federal government is also required by the NWPA to accept ownership of commercial spent fuel for transport to and disposal in this repository.

While this study is silent on policy decisions related to the storage and disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste, the decisions themselves are important to understand because they influence many of the issues that are addressed in this report. The objective of this section is to provide more detailed background information on spent fuel and high-level waste, plans for their long-term disposition, and an overview of the regulations that govern their transport across the nation’s highways and railways. This background information will support the more detailed discussions of transportation concerns in subsequent chapters. Knowledgeable readers may wish to skip this section and turn directly to Chapter 2.

1.3.1 Origin of Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste

The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 19549 opened the way for privately owned companies to build and operate commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. The nation’s first commercial nuclear power reactor began operations at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, in late 1957, slightly more than three years after the AEA became law. Over the ensuing three decades, more than 100 power reactors were licensed to operate within the United States. Many more reactors were planned, but their construction was never realized because of an electrical supply overcapacity and the rapid escalation in nuclear plant construction costs due to increased construction times and high interest rates.

The development of commercial nuclear reactor designs, siting requirements, and regulation was based on a number of expectations and requirements. Two of these—situating reactors near populated areas and reprocessing of nuclear fuel—have had a significant influence on shaping programs transporting commercial spent fuel and also gave rise to many

8  

Referred to in this report as the “federal repository.”

9  

P.L. 83-703, August 30, 1954.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

of the current and future transportation concerns that are addressed in this report.

Commercial power reactors were designed to meet stringent siting criteria that permitted their construction near power consumers, an important requirement in the 1960s and 1970s because of technology limitations on electric power transmission distances.10 Metropolitan sprawl over the past four decades has greatly increased population densities around many commercial nuclear power plants, especially in the eastern and midwestern United States. It has also increased population densities along highways and rail routes, many of which are linked through major cities. Much of the U.S. commercial spent fuel inventory is now being stored at sites near major populations, many spent fuel shipments originate from highly populated areas, and most shipments will pass through population centers on their way to temporary storage or permanent disposal.

It was also envisioned that the commercial nuclear power industry would operate under a closed fuel cycle in which spent fuel would be reprocessed to recover its reusable contents. This could include the recovery of uranium and plutonium11 for recycling into fresh reactor fuel and other radionuclides for use in industry, medicine, and research. The liquid waste product from this operation, high-level radioactive waste, was to be immobilized in solid matrices and eventually disposed of in a permanent repository (see Sidebar 1.3). Power plant operators would be required to store spent fuel on-site in spent fuel pools (see Sidebar 1.4) only for about six months after its discharge from a reactor. The spent fuel would then be transported off-site to be reprocessed.

Commercial facilities to reprocess spent fuel were constructed at West Valley, New York, in the 1960s and Morris, Illinois, in the 1970s (Figure 1.1). The construction of a third facility at Barnwell, South Carolina, was eventually withdrawn from the licensing process. The West Valley facility operated from 1966 to 1972 and reprocessed both commercial and defense spent fuel. The reprocessing facility at Morris never opened because of design problems. The facility did, however, accept about 700 metric tons

10  

Proximity of electrical production to consumption is dictated by electrical generating and transmission technologies. The U.S. electrical transmission system utilizes mostly alternating-current circuits so that transformers can be used to control voltages. However, capacitance build-up in alternating-current transmission lines limits transmission distances to about 300 miles. High-voltage direct-current transmission lines, which allow electrical power to be moved over longer distances, did not come into common use until the 1970s and are now used primarily to transmit electricity among different geographic regions of the United States.

11  

As described in Sidebar 1.3, plutonium, like uranium-235, can be used as a fuel for commercial power reactors because it is fissile. That is, it can undergo fission after capturing a thermal neutron.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

of spent fuel for reprocessing from commercial power plants. That spent fuel remains in pool storage today.

In early 1977, President Jimmy Carter made a policy decision not to provide further federal support for reprocessing of commercial spent fuel because of the perceived risk of diversion of plutonium.12 This decision was made to set an example for other nations in the hope that they would abandon reprocessing. The decision was later reversed in 1981 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, but no U.S. commercial reprocessing facilities have been constructed as a result of this decision.13

The decision by President Carter would have far-reaching implications for the management, transport, and disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste. Most significantly, it changed the operating basis for the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry to an open fuel cycle in which spent fuel is discarded rather than recycled.

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the predecessor agency to the USNRC and DOE, had established a program in the mid-1950s to investigate options for disposing of high-level waste from commercial reprocessing. However, decisions about locating and constructing a disposal facility were still decades away, and little thought had been given up to that point to disposing of spent fuel directly. Lacking a near-term disposal option, power plant operators were forced to make provisions for interim storage of spent fuel at plant sites.

By the late 1970s, spent fuel pools at the oldest operating commercial nuclear power plants were approaching their design storage capacities. Operators were able to increase storage capacities at some plants by replacing the original storage racks, which were designed with open spaces between fuel storage cells for water circulation, with dense racks that reduced this open space. This re-racking process allowed plant operators to increase storage densities in their pools up to about a factor of five (Emit et al., 2003). This step postponed but did not eliminate the need for additional spent fuel storage at most commercial nuclear power plants.

To relieve the growing shortage of spent fuel storage space, the commercial nuclear industry also developed “dry” systems for storing spent fuel that had been out of the reactor for at least five years (Sidebar 1.4). These

12  

Fresh commercial nuclear fuel typically contains between 3 and 5 percent uranium-235 and 95 to 97 percent uranium-238. In an operating reactor, plutonium-239 is formed when uranium-238 captures a neutron.

13  

France, Russia, and the United Kingdom reprocess spent fuel from power reactors, and Japan is constructing a reprocessing facility. The United Kingdom shut down its facility for reprocessing oxide fuel (Thorp) in 2005 when a radioactive leak was discovered in one of its operating cells. It is not clear whether this facility will be ever be restarted. Reprocessing of metallic (Magnox) fuel continues.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

SIDEBAR 1.4
Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste Storage

Immediately after removal from a nuclear reactor, spent fuel assemblies are stored in deep water-filled pools called spent fuel pools (see figure). The water provides radiation shielding and cooling and also captures non-fixed radioactive material on the external surfaces of the fuel rods. The fuel is stored in racks that contain neutron absorbers (e.g., boron, hafnium, cadmium) to help prevent criticality events (i.e., self-sustaining nuclear reactions such as those that occur when the fuel is in the reactor). The pool water is circulated through heat exchangers for cooling and ion-exchange filters to capture radioactive contaminants.

When a spent fuel pool reaches its storage capacity, the older fuel in the pool may be moved to other pools or placed into dry casks, as shown in the figure. These casks are typically constructed of steel and concrete and are designed to be placed outdoors on reinforced concrete storage pads at reactor sites. The casks are loaded by placing them directly into the spent fuel pool. Once loaded, the cask is closed, water is drained out, the fuel is dried, and the cask is filled with an inert gas. The exterior surfaces of the cask are also decontaminated to remove radioactive materials picked up from the pool water. The cask is moved by cranes and shielded transport vehicles to the storage pad.

Dry casks provide passive cooling of the spent fuel through a combination of heat conduction, natural convection, and thermal radiation. Shielding against radiation is provided by the cask materials: Concrete, lead, depleted uranium, or steel are used to shield penetrating beta and gamma radiation, and polyethylene, concrete, and boron-impregnated metals or resins are used to shield neutrons (neutrons are created in spent fuel by spontaneous fission and alpha particle interactions). Criticality control is provided by the basket that holds the spent fuel assemblies within individual compartments in the cask. The basket may contain boron-doped metals to absorb neutrons.

Standard industry practice is to place in dry storage only spent fuel that has cooled for five years or more after removal from the reactor. Dry casks are designed for specific types of spent fuel and for specific fuel burn-ups. The latter is a measure of the degree to which uranium-235 has been utilized in the reactor, which determines the amount of heat generation and radiation in the spent fuel. Dry casks are designed either for storage only or for both storage and transport. The former are referred to as single-purpose storage systems, and the latter as dual-purpose systems.

Dry cask storage first began in the United States in the mid 1980s and utilized single-purpose systems. Today, dry storage facilities utilize dual-purpose systems that are also suitable for rail transport. A large number of designs are available commercially.

Top: View into a spent fuel pool showing racks for storage of spent fuel. Workers are manipulating a spent fuel assembly. SOURCE: Nuclear Energy Institute. Bottom: Spent fuel storage (gray) and transportation (white) packages on a storage pad at a power plant. The smaller photo shows one of the storage packages being moved to the storage pad. The workers in the figure provide scale. SOURCE: Southern Company

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

systems store spent fuel in large steel and concrete casks designed to be placed outdoors on reinforced concrete pads at power plant sites. Each cask can typically store between about 10 and 18 metric tons (11 and 20 short tons14) of spent fuel. The first dry cask storage facility was established at the Surry Nuclear Power Plant (Virginia) in 1986. By 2004, dry storage facilities had been established at 29 U.S. power plants. This number is expected to increase in the future, especially if there are further delays in the construction of a federal repository or if away-from-reactor interim storage is not licensed or constructed.

Nuclear power plant operators in some states have encountered opposition from state regulatory agencies and the public to the establishment of dry storage facilities at their plant sites. Partly as a result, a consortium of operators (Private Fuel Storage, LLC) was formed to construct and operate a centralized dry cask storage facility on Goshute tribal lands in the desert southwest of Salt Lake City (see Figure 1.1) to relieve the growing storage pressures at plant sites. If constructed, this facility could store up to 40,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel from multiple power plants. A license application for this facility was submitted to the USNRC in 1997. On September 9, 2005, following extensive hearings by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, the Commission found that there were no further adjudicatory issues to be resolved. It authorized staff to issue a license to construct and operate this facility under the conditions in 10 CFR 72.40.15

The consortium expects to begin shipping spent fuel to this facility primarily by dedicated train16 before the end of this decade. To ship by train, however, the consortium must first build a rail line across lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM cannot approve the use of its land for this purpose until the Secretary of Defense submits a report to Congress that evaluates the impacts of such construction on military training, testing, or operational readiness.17 Additionally, the State of Utah strongly opposes this facility and is considering an appeal or court action to block the licensing decision.

Approximately 54,000 metric tons (60,000 short tons) of spent fuel were in storage at commercial power plants nationwide at the end of 2005

14  

A short ton is 2000 pounds (about 900 kilograms); a metric ton is 1000 kilograms.

15  

Title 10 Part 72 of the Code of Federal Regulations: Licensing Requirements for the Independent Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, High-Level Radioactive Waste, and Reactor-Related Greater than Class C Waste. Part 72.40 describes the conditions under which a license can be issued.

16  

Dedicated trains are trains that transport only spent fuel and high-level waste and no other cargo. These are described in more detail in Chapter 5.

17  

This provision was added to the fiscal year 2000 defense bill by a member of the Utah congressional delegation.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

(Table 1.1). The U.S. commercial nuclear industry generates about 2000 metric tons (2200 short tons) of spent fuel each year, approximately 20 metric tons (22 short tons) from each of the 103 currently operating reactors. Under current U.S. policy, all of this spent fuel will continue to be stored at power plant sites or at a centralized storage facility such as Private Fuel Storage, LLC, until it can be transported to a federal repository for permanent disposal.

The federal government holds substantial inventories of spent fuel and high-level waste. The government operated defense reactors and reprocessing plants at sites near Hanford, Washington, and Savannah River, South Carolina, to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. These facilities operated into the 1980s and produced more than 100 metric tons of plutonium. The government operated a facility at the Idaho National Laboratory18 to reprocess naval and test reactor spent fuel. As noted previously, the commercial facility at West Valley, New York, also reprocessed a small amount of defense spent fuel. The volumes of currently stored high-level waste from these reprocessing operations are shown in Table 1.1. About 386,000 cubic meters of high-level radioactive waste19 is stored at Hanford, Savannah River, and Idaho. Current U.S. policy calls for all of this high-level waste to be processed by immobilizing it in glass matrices (a process known as vitrification) and stored on-site until it can be shipped to a federal repository.

There are also about 2129 MTHM (metric tons of heavy metal) of defense reactor spent fuel in storage at the Hanford Site. This fuel was irradiated in one of the plutonium production reactors (the N-reactor) at that site but was never reprocessed. The fuel, much of which is highly corroded from decades of storage underwater, is being dried and placed in storage canisters. It too will eventually be shipped to a federal repository.

The federal government (through DOE) also supplies reactor fuel to university, government, and foreign research reactors, the latter under the Atoms for Peace Program.20 Some of this fuel will eventually be returned to DOE. Foreign spent fuel is being transported from overseas by ship to the

18  

Formerly named the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

19  

This waste was generated from the reprocessing of about 170,000 metric tons of spent fuel from plutonium production reactors. The original volumes of high-level waste were much greater. Volume reductions were obtained through various processing methods.

20  

The Atoms for Peace Program began under the Eisenhower Administration in 1954. The U.S. government supplied research reactor technology and nuclear fuel to foreign nations that agreed to forgo the development of nuclear weapons. Research reactors were built in 41 countries. In 1996, DOE issued an Environmental Impact Statement (DOE, 1996a) on the management of this fuel and issued a Record of Decision (DOE, 1996b) to return this fuel to the United States for eventual disposal. See Chapter 4.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, South Carolina.21 From there it is offloaded and transported by either train or truck to the Savannah River Site, and some is transported onward to the Idaho National Laboratory by truck. Domestic research reactor spent fuel is being shipped to Savannah River and Idaho by reactor operators. Additional details on this program are provided in Chapter 4. Under current U.S. policy, all DOE’s spent fuel and high-level waste will eventually be disposed of in a federal repository.

The DOE Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is responsible for managing spent fuel from the U.S. Navy. This spent fuel is from nuclear submarines, ships, and training reactors belonging to the U.S. Navy. The spent fuel is offloaded at Navy facilities and shipped by commercial train to a naval spent fuel storage facility at the Idaho National Laboratory using U.S. government-owned transport packages and rail cars. The Naval Propulsion Program also will be responsible for shipping its naval spent fuel to the federal repository. At the end of 2005, about 19.5 MTHM of naval spent fuel was in storage at the Idaho site.

Under current U.S. policies, all of the spent fuel and high-level waste in the United States will be permanently disposed of in a federal repository. These policies are described in the next section of this chapter.

1.3.2 Disposal of Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste

The AEC began to consider options for disposal of high-level waste in the early 1950s. Conferences were held in 1954 at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., to explore options for disposing of this waste in the oceans and on land. In 1955, the AEC signed a contract with the National Academy of Sciences to establish a committee of leading scientists to conduct additional conferences on methods for disposing of radioactive waste and to recommend a program of research.

The first AEC-sponsored Academy conference was held at Princeton University in September 1955 to discuss the land disposal of radioactive waste. The proceedings from this conference were published in the National Research Council report entitled The Disposal of Radioactive Waste on Land (NRC, 1957). Although the main topic of consideration at this conference was disposal options, issues related to transportation cost, feasibility, and safety figured prominently in one of the discussions.

Government research on land disposal options continued through the 1970s and culminated in an unsuccessful effort to establish a disposal facility in a salt cavern near Lyons, Kansas. Attention then shifted to salt

21  

In the past, one shipment of foreign research reactor fuel was received at Concord Weapons Station in northern California for transport to Idaho National Laboratory. However, DOE has no plans to receive future fuel shipments at this site.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

disposal in the Delaware Basin in Texas and New Mexico. These investigations eventually led to the establishment of what was to become the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. This disposal facility, which is used to dispose of transuranic waste22 from defense programs, was opened in 1999.23

The slow pace for addressing the waste disposal problem prompted action from the U.S. Congress in the 1980s. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act,24 which established a federal responsibility and a federal policy for the disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste and a schedule for siting, constructing, and operating a federal repository. The NWPA established that the federal government is responsible for disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste and that the generators and owners of spent fuel and waste are responsible for paying the costs of such disposal.

The NWPA vests authority with the Secretary of Energy for carrying out the federal government’s spent fuel and high-level waste disposal program, including transportation. It established a Nuclear Waste Fund25 to cover the costs of transportation and disposal. It also authorized the Secretary of Energy to enter into contracts with owners of spent fuel and high-level waste of domestic origin. These contracts allow the Secretary of Energy to take title to spent fuel and waste for transportation and disposal.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act established a process to identify two repository sites in different regions of the United States (one in the eastern or midwestern United States and the other in the western United States) for disposal of the nation’s spent fuel and high-level waste. After the NWPA was passed, DOE initiated a screening program that eventually resulted in the selection of three potential repository sites in the western United States: Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. This amended act directed DOE to terminate its characterization activities at all sites except Yucca Mountain. It capped the disposal capacity of Yucca Mountain at 70,000 MTHM (77,000 short tons) until after a second repository is oper-

22  

Transuranic waste is a by-product of nuclear weapons production activities. It contains long-lived radioactive transuranic elements such as plutonium in concentrations greater than 100 nanocuries per gram.

23  

The land withdrawal act for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (P.L. 102-579) specifically prohibits the transport of spent fuel and high-level waste to WIPP or disposal in the WIPP repository.

24  

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, P.L. 97-425 (January 7, 1983) and amendments (P.L. 100-203, Subtitle A [December 22, 1987]; P.L. 100-507 [October 18, 1988]; and P.L. 102-486 [October 24, 1992]).

25  

The Nuclear Waste Fund was established by the U.S. Treasury and is funded through a 1.0 mil (0.1 cent) per kilowatt-hour fee on nuclear-generated electricity (see DOE, 2001a).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

ating. This capacity has been allocated by DOE for disposal of both commercial spent fuel and DOE-owned spent fuel and high-level waste (Table 1.2). It also directed DOE to postpone the identification of a site for a second repository.

After the passage of the amended act, DOE initiated what would ultimately be a 15-year program to characterize the Yucca Mountain site to determine its suitability to host a repository. In 1998, DOE issued a viability assessment for this site in which it concluded (DOE, 1998a, summary, p. 2) that “Yucca Mountain remains a promising site for a geologic repository” and “work should proceed to support a decision in 2001 on whether to recommend the site to the President for development as a repository.”

In late 2001, then Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham recommended to President G. W. Bush that a federal repository be developed at Yucca Mountain. The President forwarded the recommendation to Congress, which in July 2002—and over the objections of Nevada—authorized DOE to submit an application to the USNRC for a license to construct and

TABLE 1.2 Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste Disposal at Yucca Mountain

Material

Quantitya

Number of Shipping Sites

Commercial spent fuel

29,000 cubic meters

63,000 MTHMb

73 (72 commercial power plant sites and one commercial storage facility)

Defense spent fuel and high-level waste

7000 MTHM

From sites shown below

Naval spent fuel

900 cubic meters

65 MTHM

1 (INL)

Other DOE spent fuelc

1000 cubic meters

2435 MTHM

4 (Hanford, INL, SRS, Fort St. Vrain)

High-level waste

When processed:

21,000 cubic meters

58,000 metric tons

22,000 canisters

4 (Hanford, INL, SRS, West Valley)

NOTE: INL = Idaho National Laboratory; SRS = Savannah River Site.

aThe quantities of commercial and defense waste listed in this table represent the current legislated capacity of Yucca Mountain. Quantities are given in terms of volumes and masses.

bMetric tons of heavy metal.

cIncludes defense and research reactor spent fuel.

SOURCE: DOE (2002a, Appendix A).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

operate a repository. DOE planned to submit this application to the USNRC before the end of 2004 and to begin operating the repository by 2010.

DOE was unable to submit the application in 2004, however, and has encountered setbacks that could delay its plans to establish a repository at Yucca Mountain. In 2004, the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) health and safety standards for Yucca Mountain (Title 40, Part 197 of the Code of Federal Regulations). This remanded standard must be reissued26 by the EPA before the USNRC can issue a license for Yucca Mountain. DOE also encountered problems in establishing the database of information that will be used to support its license application for Yucca Mountain. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires that this database, referred to as the Licensing Support Network, be established at least six months before the license application is docketed by the USNRC. DOE brought this database on-line in 2004, but the USNRC has so far refused to certify that it is complete.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act committed the federal government to begin disposing of commercial spent fuel in the federal repository by January 31, 1998. However, siting such a repository turned out to be a more arduous process than envisaged by Congress when the NWPA was passed. After the 1998 deadline passed, commercial power plant operators began filing lawsuits against DOE to recover the additional costs incurred for extended on-site storage of spent fuel. The U.S. government settled with one of the plaintiffs (Exelon Nuclear Power Corp.) in 2004. Sixty cases are still pending before the courts, and discussions are under way to settle some of these cases. The Exelon settlement commits the federal government to pay the utility $80 million immediately, with further annual payments as costs are incurred for continued storage of spent fuel at its sites. The federal government will pay Exelon a total of about $300 million if Yucca Mountain opens by 2010, and possibly more if the opening is delayed beyond that date. Settlement costs for the entire nuclear industry could cost taxpayers27 billions of dollars. DOE is under pressure from the nuclear industry and Congress to move forward with Yucca Mountain or establish one or more centralized interim storage sites to reduce the growing spent fuel inventories at commercial power plant sites as well as the federal government’s future monetary liabilities.

The Private Fuel Storage facility could be used as an interim step to-

26  

The EPA issued a new draft standard for public comment on August 8, 2005. The final standard had not yet been issued when this report was being finalized for publication in December 2005.

27  

Settlements are being paid out of the federal government’s judgment fund, not out of the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

ward permanent disposal at Yucca Mountain. The facility’s location in Utah was selected in part because of its proximity to Nevada. Even though Private Fuel Storage, LLC, is now poised to receive a license from the USNRC, it may still face several obstacles to opening. These include opposition from the State of Utah as well as other states and communities along likely transportation routes.

1.3.3 Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste Transportation

Small-quantity spent fuel shipping programs have been carried out routinely by both the federal government and the private sector for several decades. The primary objective of these programs has been to move spent fuel to interim storage. The federal agency responsible for government transport of spent fuel is DOE. This agency has transported foreign research reactor spent fuel, DOE research reactor spent fuel, naval spent fuel, and commercial spent fuel from some shut-down power reactors (e.g., Three Mile Island Unit 2) to centralized interim storage sites in South Carolina and Idaho. University and non-DOE government research reactor operators have also transported spent fuel to these interim storage sites. Commercial nuclear power plant operators have transported spent fuel between reactor sites to consolidate storage.

Transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste takes place under a number of federal, state, and local statutes and regulations.28 The complexity of the regulatory environment is illustrated schematically in Figure 1.2 and in tabular form in Table 1.3. The principal federal regulators are DOT and the USNRC.29 DOT is responsible for regulating the safety of hazardous material shipments, including radioactive material shipments, under several statutes, including the Department of Transportation Act (49 USC 1655) and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 USC 1801–1812).30 The USNRC is responsible for licensing and regulating the receipt, possession, transfer, and use of source materials, byproduct materials, and special nuclear materials (see glossary in Appendix D) under the Atomic Energy Act (42 USC Chapters 6–8) and the Energy Reorganization Act (42 USC 5841).

28  

See Clark County Nuclear Waste Division (2004) for a summary of state requirements concerning the transportation of radioactive waste.

29  

Under 10 CFR Part 150, the USNRC retains authority for licensing and regulating spent fuel storage and transport in USNRC Agreement States. All states retain their authorities for carrier safety and emergency response as shown in Table 1.3.

30  

Shipments made for national security purposes by the Department of Defense or DOE may be exempted from DOT regulations if they comply with the security escort requirements in 49 CFR 173.7(b).

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

FIGURE 1.2 Schematic illustration of the regulatory bases for spent fuel and high-level waste transportation in the United States. As illustrated by the figure, spent fuel and high-level waste transport is regulated by the federal government and states under a number of statutes. SOURCE: Earl Easton, USNRC.

DOT and the USNRC have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) (44 FR 38690, July 2, 1979) that delineates responsibilities for regulating the transport of radioactive materials. This MOU gives USNRC the primary responsibility, in consultation with DOT, for the development of standards and regulations for the design, performance, and inspection of transportation packages for fissile materials, which include spent fuel and high-level waste. USNRC also has the primary responsibility for approval of domestic and foreign package designs used to transport spent fuel solely within the United States.31 The MOU recognizes the USNRC’s responsibility for imposing DOT regulations and conducting inspection activities for shipments of spent fuel by its licensees. In addition, DOT routing regulations (49 CFR 397.101) recognize the USNRC’s responsibility for providing physical protection requirements for spent fuel shipments.

31  

While DOT has the responsibility for approving packages for import and export shipments, it relies on USNRC’s review under the MOU as the basis for approving or revalidating the use of foreign-designed spent fuel packages.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

TABLE 1.3 Principal Responsibilities for Spent Fuel and High-Level Waste Transportation in the United States

 

USNRC Licensee Spent Fuel (AEA)

DOE Spent Fuel (AEA, NWPA)

Commercial Reactors

Research Reactors

Commercial Reactors

Foreign Research Reactors

Naval Reactorsa

Package approvals and inspections

USNRC

USNRC

USNRC

DOE and USNRCb

DOE and USNRCb

Highway route selection criteriac

DOT

DOT

DOT

DOT

DOT

Carrier safety

DOT, states

DOT, states

DOT, states

DOT, states

DOTd

Emergency response

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments

Route security approval

USNRC

USNRC

DOE

DOE and USNRCe

DOE

Physical protection

USNRC

USNRC

DOE and USNRCf

DOE

DOE

NOTE: AEA = Atomic Energy Act; NWPA = Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

aNaval Reactors has voluntarily chosen not to designate shipments of defense-related spent fuel as national security shipments under 49 CFR 173.7 and instead chooses to comply voluntarily with DOT regulations.

bDOE seeks technical reviews from the USNRC on package designs. The USNRC review provides the basis for DOT approval of foreign package designs under 49 CFR 171.12 or for USNRC certification of U.S. package designs.

cDOT does not have route selection criteria for rail shipments.

dShipments are subject to the Federal Rail Safety Act, which governs railcars and track. DOE also voluntarily complies with DOT inspection requirements.

eDOE has made a practice to seek approval from USNRC under a reimbursable agreement for the foreign research reactor spent fuel shipments that it handles. USNRC approval is not required when DOE has title and possession of spent fuel.

fDOE is required under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to follow USNRC prenotification requirements. These are described in Appendix C.

The MOU recognizes DOT as having the primary responsibility, in consultation with USNRC, for issuing safety requirements for the transport of radioactive materials, including labeling of packages; placarding of vehicles; equipment maintenance requirements; carrier personnel qualifica-

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

tions; procedures for loading, unloading, handling, and storage during transport; and special transport controls (excluding safeguards controls) for radiation safety during transport. DOT also has the primary responsibility for inspecting transportation activities by carriers for both USNRC licensee and non-USNRC licensee activities (e.g., shipments by DOE and USNRC Agreement State licensees).

As shown in Table 1.3, responsibilities for regulating the transport of spent fuel and high-level waste are somewhat different for USNRC licensees32 and DOE. USNRC licensees are required to use USNRC-certified packages for domestic shipments or a DOT-certified package for import-export shipments. DOE has authority under DOT regulations (49 CFR 173.7), unless otherwise specified in law, to certify packages for the domestic transport of its own spent fuel and high-level waste—for example, its shipments of spent fuel from West Valley to Idaho.

DOE’s import shipments of foreign reactor fuel, unless designated as national security shipments, must be made in DOT-approved packages. This could include either a USNRC-certified package, a DOE-certified package, or a foreign package design that is revalidated by DOT. However, under a cost-reimbursable agreement, DOE has sought USNRC review of foreign package designs that can be used as the basis for DOT revalidation. DOE has also made a policy decision to seek USNRC approval of the physical protection measures used for its shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel. Research reactor shipments are discussed in Chapter 4. A description of some of the USNRC regulations for package certification and associated package tests is provided in Section 2.1.

States and local governments also play important roles in spent fuel and high-level waste transportation. States have an important responsibility for enforcing DOT highway safety regulations concerning federal motor carrier safety and hazardous materials transportation. Highway shipments of spent fuel and high-level waste are subject to state inspection, and state enforcement officials can stop and inspect vehicles and inspect the premises of motor carriers to check for compliance with federal and state requirements regarding equipment, documentation, and driver fitness. States can also require carriers to obtain special permits to operate these vehicles and

32  

The Atomic Energy Act gives the USNRC the authority to issue licenses to private and government (except DOE) organizations to possess radioactive materials, conduct operations involving the emission of radiation, and dispose of radioactive waste. Operators of nuclear reactors for research and power generation are USNRC licensees since these facilities involve the emission of radiation and the generation of radioactive materials.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×

charge fees for such permits.33 Rail shipments of spent fuel and high-level waste are not subject to state regulation, but they are subject to inspection by DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration.

Federal, state, tribal, and local governments and shippers share the responsibility for emergency response and preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Agency within the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for providing a national incident response plan. State, tribal, and local governments are responsible for providing the first line of government response to accidents and incidents within their jurisdictions and can enlist the assistance of other agencies and organizations as circumstances require.

More detailed information on responsibilities and regulations is provided in other chapters. Chapter 4 provides a detailed description of highway and rail routing regulations. Chapter 2 describes package performance standards and regulations. Chapter 5 provides descriptions of other regulations governing the transport of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste to a federal repository.

33  

However, the federal hazardous materials transportation law is explicit that federal rules preempt state rules in cases of conflict (49 USC 5125), consistent with the goal of nationally uniform regulation. DOT has administrative authority to determine when state rules are to be preempted. DOT has determined that state requirements for special permits for highway shipments of radioactive materials are preempted if they require documentation or prenotification in excess of federal requirements. DOT also has determined that state fees imposed on hazardous materials transport are preempted if they are excessive or if the revenue is not used for purposes related to hazardous materials transport.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 32
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 33
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 36
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 37
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 38
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 39
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 41
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 42
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 51
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 52
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 53
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2006. Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11538.
×
Page 54
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This book looks to provide an independent, objective, and authoritative analysis of the transportation of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in the United States, while simultaneously examining risks and identifying current and future technical and societal concerns for such specialized transportation. Going the Distance? also gives comparisons between health and safety risks for transporting spent fuel and radioactive waste and other risks that confront members of society. Comparisons are provided for routine radiological transport, which has the potential to produce chronic radiation exposures and latent cancer, and severe accident risks, which have the potential to produce acute radiation sickness and death, as well as latent cancer. This book will inform readers about the risks of spent fuel and high-level waste transportation.

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