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Going the Distance?: The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States (2006)

Chapter: 4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage

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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

4
Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage

Since the 1950s, the Department of Energy (DOE), other federal civilian agencies, and U.S. universities have regularly transported spent nuclear fuel from research reactors1 to DOE facilities. These shipments have passed through many regions of the country. These transportation programs have at times been controversial and have led to conflicts between DOE and state governments, and DOE has been compelled to revise and improve its practices regarding evaluation, planning, and consultation with states and tribes. This chapter responds to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) request, as directed by congressional study charge (Sidebar 1.2), for the committee to examine the procedures that are followed in selecting routes for these shipments. The routing of research reactor spent fuel is also a good example of a “current concern” identified in the original statement of task for this study (Sidebar 1.1).

The first section of this chapter describes DOE’s involvement in managing spent fuel from research reactors. The second section summarizes provisions of federal regulations governing transportation of spent nuclear fuel that are particularly relevant to the congressional study charge. DOE routing practices for research reactor spent fuel shipments are described in the

1  

As the term is used here, research reactors are small nuclear reactors used primarily to conduct research, to develop theoretical practices, and for education or medical purposes. Their output is typically a fraction of a percent of the output of a commercial electric utility reactor. They serve as sources of neutrons for spectrographic and radiographic applications and for the manufacture of isotopes for medical and other uses.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

third section, in the order presented in the study charge. The final section presents the committee’s findings and recommendations.

4.1 DOE MANAGEMENT OF RESEARCH REACTOR SPENT FUEL

DOE has responsibilities for managing spent nuclear fuel from three categories of research reactors (Table 4.1):

  1. Research reactors located at DOE facilities: there are two operating reactors, one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee (the High Flux Isotope Reactor) and one at Idaho National Laboratory (the Advanced Test Reactor).

  2. Foreign research reactors located in 41 countries that use fuel manufactured in the United States from fissionable material provided by the U.S. government under the Atoms for Peace Program.

  3. Research reactors operated by U.S. universities, U.S. government agencies other than DOE, and private-sector firms. All such reactors are required to be licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). As of July 2005, there were 33 operating research reactors and 11 in the process of decommissioning (USNRC, 2005c) (Figure 4.1).

TABLE 4.1 DOE Research Reactor Spent Fuel Management Activities

Activity

Points of Origina

Packages Shipped, 1996–2004

USNRC Approval of Shipment Route Required?

DOT Highway Routing Regulations Apply?

FRR spent fuel acceptance

2b

168

yes, by DOE policy

yes

Non-DOE U.S. research reactors

36

45c

yes

yes

DOE research reactors

2

93b

no

yes

NOTE: FRR = foreign research reactors. USNRC = U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

aNumber of places within the United States where shipments of research reactor spent fuel originated.

bCharleston Naval Weapons Station and DOE Savannah River Site. Future shipments from Canada are also possible.

cThrough 2002.

SOURCE: DOE (2004c); DOE Office of Environmental Management, written communication.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 4.1 Sites of U.S. domestic non-DOE research reactors. SOURCE: Modified from USNRC (2003).

DOE provides interim storage for the spent nuclear fuel it receives from these reactors and is responsible for preparing that fuel for eventual shipment to a federal repository for disposal.

Research reactor fuel includes highly enriched uranium (HEU), fuel enriched in the fissile isotope uranium-235 to concentrations of 20 percent or greater, as well as low enriched uranium (LEU). By the 1970s, most research reactors in the United States and abroad were using HEU.2 HEU fuel contains material that is potentially usable in nuclear weapons and is therefore a nuclear proliferation concern. Also in the 1970s, the United States began programs to promote the conversion of research reactors to LEU and to return all U.S.-origin HEU to the United States, with the goal of eliminating HEU in civilian applications worldwide (GAO, 1994, 2004a, pp. 10–11). Today, DOE transports and stores both HEU and LEU spent fuel from some foreign and U.S. research reactors (GAO, 2004a, pp. 11–22; 2004b, p. 28).

2  

HEU was used for applications that were thought not to be possible with LEU reactors. Use of HEU also allowed some economies, in part because less frequent refueling was required (GAO, 2004a, p. 10).

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

Research reactor spent fuel is received and stored at two DOE facilities: the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory. Savannah River stores research reactor spent fuel containing aluminum-uranium matrices and aluminum cladding. Idaho National Laboratory stores other types of spent fuel, for example, stainless steel-clad fuel with uranium-zirconium matrices.

Since 1996, between about 20 and 60 packages containing research reactor spent fuel have been shipped annually to Savannah River or Idaho National Laboratory. Foreign research reactor spent fuel accounts for about 55 percent of the packages shipped during this period (Figure 4.2). Domes-

FIGURE 4.2 Numbers of research reactor spent fuel casks shipped domestically, 1996–2004. NOTE: SNF = spent nuclear fuel. SOURCES: DOE (2004c); DOE Office of Environmental Management, written communication.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

tic research reactor spent fuel is transported to Savannah River or Idaho by truck (Figure 4.3). Foreign research reactor spent fuel arrives from overseas at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina and is transported to Savannah River (141 packages by rail and 9 packages by truck during 1996–2004). Foreign research reactor spent fuel to be stored at Idaho National Laboratory is transported from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory (12 packages during 1996–2004, all by truck). In addition, three packages of foreign research reactor spent fuel that were landed at Concord Naval Weapons Station in California in 1998 were shipped to Idaho National Laboratory by rail. Also, three packages have been shipped from Canada to Savannah River by truck.

DOE has prepared Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) evaluating its management of research reactor spent fuel (DOE, 1995b, 1996a). These EISs and the Records of Decision (RODs) that followed (DOE, 1995c, 1996b) described the anticipated scope of DOE’s research reactor spent fuel transportation activities (Table 4.2). Projections from the EISs indicate the

FIGURE 4.3 The package pictured above shows the GE Model-2000 package, which is used to transport research reactor spent fuel and other byproduct, source, or special nuclear materials. This package has a specially fabricated liner and basket for shipping High Flux Isotope Reactor spent fuel from Oak Ridge to the Savannah River Site. SOURCE: DOE (2001e).

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 4.2 EIS Projections of Quantities of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to be Shipped

Origin of Spent Fuel

To be Shipped During Programa

Program Duration

MTHM

Packages

Foreign research reactors

 

Stored at SRS

19

815

1996–2019b

Stored at INL

1

162

1996–2019b

DOE domestic

1.8

 

1996–2035c

Non-DOE domestic

5.5

 

1996–2035c

NOTE: INL = Idaho National Laboratory; MTHM = metric tons of heavy metal; SRS = Savannah River Site.

aThe quantities of actual shipments probably will differ considerably from these projections, which were prepared in 1995 and 1996.

bDOE originally scheduled the foreign research reactor program to end in 2009 (DOE, 1995b), but in 2004 DOE extended it to 2019 (DOE, 2004a).

c2035 is the planning horizon of the EIS but not necessarily the end of the programs.

SOURCES: DOE (1995b, Table 1.1; 1996a, p. S-21).

order of magnitude of expected shipments, but actual quantities will differ because of changes in the utilization of reactors and because some countries that received research reactor fuel from the United States have decided not to ship it back. By 2004, 29 percent of the quantity (measured in numbers of fuel assemblies) of foreign research reactor spent fuel receipts anticipated in the 1996 EIS had been shipped, but presently scheduled shipments would bring the total over the life of the foreign research reactor acceptance program to only about half the quantity projected in the EIS (DOE, 2005a).

Because research reactors are small compared to commercial power reactors, the sizes of shipments of research reactor spent fuel are also relatively small. Most types of transportation packages used for research reactor fuel have loaded weights of 40,000 pounds (about 18,200 kilograms) or less, small enough to be carried by a legal-weight truck (DOE, 2004b).

DOE, employing commercial carriers, is directly responsible for the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from its own research reactors and for transportation from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory. DOE oversees all aspects of the planning and conduct of shipments from Charleston Naval Weapons Station to Savannah River. However, in some cases, the shipper makes arrangements for contracting with a commercial carrier to transport the fuel. DOE does not arrange the shipment.

Shipment of spent nuclear fuel from U.S. university and other domestic research reactors, including selection of routes to comply with DOT regula-

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 and submission of routes to the USNRC for approval as required by USNRC regulations (see Table 1.3), is the responsibility of reactor licensees and their commercial carriers. Because DOE plays no role in route selection for these shipments, this transportation activity is not within the scope of the congressional charge for the present study (Sidebar 1.2). However, the committee examined practices for these shipments because this experience is relevant to the problem of route selection and to the committee’s original task statement (Sidebar 1.1) to identify technical and societal issues concerning spent fuel transport. The management of transportation of spent fuel from the two sources (foreign research reactors and U.S. university reactors) demonstrates two alternative organizational approaches: assigning responsibility to DOE versus leaving responsibility with the private owners of the fuel.

4.1.1 Controversies Regarding Shipment of Research Reactor Spent Fuel

The questions about DOE’s routing practices that are embodied in the congressional charge arose as a result of past DOE shipments of research reactor spent fuel. A review of the history of some of these controversies is helpful in understanding the intent of the study charge.

Research reactor spent fuel was shipped in the United States for many decades in quantities equal to or exceeding present shipment rates with relatively little public attention. The first shipment of spent fuel from a foreign reactor under the Atoms for Peace Program occurred in 1958. However, in the 1980s, DOE was challenged in court by environmental organizations, states, and others for failing to comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for evaluation of potential impacts of its transportation activities. To justify its activities, DOE had relied on earlier EISs (USNRC, 1977; DOE, 1980) and other evaluations that had concluded that transportation of spent nuclear fuel is generically a safe activity with negligible environmental impacts. Complainants argued that DOE was required to perform analyses of the actual conditions for specific planned shipments and to evaluate alternative shipping routes. Some of the subsequent court rulings found that DOE analyses had been inadequate (DOE, 2002a, pp. 16–19). DOE suspended acceptance of foreign research reactor spent fuel from 1988 to 1994 while new analyses were prepared. In 1995 and 1996, DOE published EISs evaluating its management of research reactor spent fuel and other materials (DOE, 1995b, 1996a) and RODs defining new DOE policies for transporting and storing these materials (DOE, 1995c, 1996b). The contents of these EISs and RODs that are relevant to the committee’s study charge are summarized below.

Before DOE’s EIS studies were completed, the State of South Carolina challenged DOE plans to store foreign research reactor spent fuel at the

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

Savannah River Site, which is located in the state. The state’s primary concerns centered on the safety of indefinite storage of the spent fuel in South Carolina, rather than on transportation (Schill, 1996, 1997, 1998). The state filed three state lawsuits in federal court that were unsuccessful.

Following the publication of the foreign research reactor EIS (DOE, 1996a) and ROD (DOE, 1996b), the California State government criticized DOE’s designation of the Concord, California, Naval Weapons Station as one of the ports of entry for foreign research reactor spent fuel. The state argued that DOE had failed to take into account analyses showing that alternative routes (using ports in Washington or Oregon) were safer than routes using Concord. The state had been one of the parties challenging DOE spent fuel transportation activities in the 1980s. However, the state decided not to take legal action in 1996, so the legal challenge of a California city and county to DOE’s transportation plans failed (California, 1998).

Three packages of research reactor spent fuel from Korea were shipped through Concord and then onto Idaho National Laboratory by rail in July 1998. This shipment was made following discussions between DOE and the affected states and tribes concerning routes and other procedures and after extensive preparation of emergency responders along the route. Since 1998, all shipments of research reactor spent fuel from East Asia have arrived at Charleston Naval Weapons Station.

In 2001, DOE decided to send a shipment of three packages of foreign research reactor spent fuel from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory via Interstate 70 through Missouri. The state objected, as California had earlier, that DOE was not basing its routing decisions on comparisons of the safety of alternative routes. Missouri had not acquiesced to DOE’s plan, announced in 1998, identifying three potential highway routes for shipments from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory. Cross-country shipments in 1999 and 2000 had avoided the state, traveling over the alternative route through Illinois and Iowa instead (see Figure 4.4). The development of the Savannah River-to-Idaho National Laboratory highway routes is described below.

DOE staff reported to the committee that for the 2001 shipment, DOE selected the route through Missouri at the insistence of the USNRC, because it was shorter than the Illinois-Iowa alternative route. The USNRC was insistent that travel time be minimized because one of the packages in the 2001 shipment was nearing the end of its design life. After DOE announced its intention to use the Missouri route in 2001, the state attempted to block use of the route by declaring that Interstate 70 was unsuitable for spent fuel shipments because of high accident rates and because of construction. The state argued that the route through Illinois and Iowa would be safer and questioned the basis for DOE’s decision to switch to the Missouri route from the route used for the 1999 and 2000 shipments. A negotiated resolu-

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 4.4 Highway routes for transportation of foreign research reactor spent nuclear fuel from the Savannah River Site to Idaho National Laboratory. SOURCE: DOE (2003a).

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

tion was reached that allowed the shipment to proceed as originally planned with state cooperation. This agreement provided for special safety measures in Missouri, including additional vehicle inspections and escorts, training of state personnel, and scheduling to avoid city rush hours. The state later complained that DOE had not abided by all of these commitments, including the schedule for notifying the state, in its management of this shipment (Bell, 2001; DOE, 2001b,c; Holden, 2001; Shields, 2001).

In summary, the history of these controversies shows that states and others have challenged DOE to justify its selection of specific routes for its shipping campaigns. As the description of DOE route selection practices below indicates, DOE generally has not based route selection on quantitative comparisons of risks of alternative routes, but rather on application of the routing rules contained in DOT regulations, taking into account advice from states and tribes along potential routes.

4.2 REGULATIONS GOVERNING SELECTION OF ROUTES FOR SHIPPING SPENT FUEL

DOT and USNRC regulations that affect the selection of routes for domestic shipments of spent nuclear fuel are described briefly in Section 1.2.3. Certain provisions of these regulations, relating specifically to the route selection practices relevant to this chapter, are summarized below.

The DOT administers regulations governing the routing of highway shipments of spent nuclear fuel (49 CFR 397.101 and 397.103) that apply to any shipment of a quantity of radioactive material meeting the regulatory definition of “highway route controlled quantity.” These require the following:

  • The carrier must operate the vehicle containing the material only over “preferred routes.” Preferred routes include all Interstate System highways (see Figure 1.1), except where the state has designated an alternative route to a particular Interstate System highway segment, and other state-designated routes.

  • A state may designate a preferred route for transport of radioactive materials after it conducts a risk analysis and consults with neighboring states, and must notify DOT of the designation.

  • Among preferred routes, the carrier must select the route that minimizes time in transit, except that the carrier must select Interstate System bypasses around cities unless the state has designated an alternative.

  • The carrier may deviate from preferred routes only for security reasons (as specified in a required security plan or at the direction of the USNRC), for pickup and delivery of shipments, for rest stops, and for emergencies.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×
  • In traveling between the origin and a preferred route and from a preferred route to the destination, the carrier may select either the shortest-distance route or another route that minimizes radiological risk considering accident rates, transit times, population density, activities, time of day, and day of week, provided this route does not exceed the length of the shortest-distance route by more than 25 miles and is less than five times the length of the shortest-distance route.

Literal application of these regulations would practically dictate a unique highway route in many circumstances. The regulation does not explicitly require the carrier to consider risks of individual routes, except in the circumstance that the shortest-distance route is not chosen for travel to a designated highway from the shipment origin or from a designated highway to the destination.3 Rather, the primary responsibility of the carrier is to keep to the designated preferred route system, and a burden is placed on the states to make whatever adjustments are necessary in the designated route system to ensure safety.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, DOT explained its justification for the routing regulation as follows (DOT, 1980, p. 7144): “In view of statistics showing lower accident rates and reduced travel times in travel on Interstate highways, this proposal favors use of the Interstate System. [DOT] believes that in most cases this policy will produce the most significant transportation safety impact reduction and it offers a clear standard for compliance and enforcement purposes.” For quantitative support, DOT cites the USNRC’s transportation EIS (USNRC, 1977; this EIS is described in Chapter 3 of this report), which, DOT states, determined that restricting carriers of large quantities of radioactive materials to Interstate System highways would be a cost-effective measure (DOE, 1980, p. 7149).

For rail shipments of spent fuel, there are no federal regulations governing route selection analogous to the highway routing regulations. As the following section on DOE’s practices for shipping research reactor spent fuel describes, the absence of regulation has not meant in practice that railroads have selected routes for these shipments without government oversight. Historically, DOE has specified rail routes in its contracts with the

3  

The regulation states: “Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section [which requires the carrier to operate on preferred routes and to minimize travel time] …, a carrier … operating a motor vehicle that contains [a highway route controlled quantity of radioactive material] … shall: (1) Ensure that the motor vehicle is operated on routes that minimize radiological risk; (2) Consider available information on accident rates, transit time, population density and activities, and the time of day and the day of week during which transportation will occur to determine the level of radiological risk….” Therefore, following preferred routes will always comply with the regulation, although the carrier apparently is required in addition to consider time of day and activities along the route in planning the shipment.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

railroads. The states lack the authority over rail routes that federal regulations give them over highway routes, although DOE has consulted the states on rail route selections.

USNRC regulations (10 CFR 73.37) require that any licensee shipping spent nuclear fuel exceeding a threshold quantity obtain the USNRC’s approval of shipment routes. Normally, the transportation services contractor arranging a spent fuel shipment submits the planned route for USNRC review. USNRC approval of a route is valid only for shipments by the party submitting the application and for a term of two years. Rail as well as highway routes must be submitted for review.

The USNRC route review is among the regulatory requirements intended to “minimize the possibilities for radiological sabotage … [and] … [f]acilitate the location and recovery of spent fuel shipments that may have come under the control of unauthorized persons” (10 CFR 73.37 (a)). The regulation does not specify the security factors that the USNRC takes into account in its review. USNRC staff reported to the committee that proposed routes are examined in detail and that the review considers travel time and distance and, for highway shipments, adequacy of provisions for safe havens, that is, preplanned locations where the vehicle may stop in case of an emergency and receive protection by police or other security forces.

Shipments of spent fuel made directly by DOE or by contractors to DOE are not legally subject to USNRC regulations because DOE is not a licensee. The regulations do apply to shipments performed by non-DOE operators of research reactors, including universities, private firms, and other government agencies. These operators are USNRC licensees. Certain domestic shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel are carried out by contractors to the foreign operators of the research reactors, and these are subject to USNRC regulations as well. For shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel carried out by DOE contractors, DOE as a matter of policy seeks USNRC approval of the routes (DOE, 2003a, p. 6; DOE, 2003b, p. 4).

4.3 SELECTION OF ROUTES FOR SHIPPING RESEARCH REACTOR SPENT FUEL

As specified by the Congress, the charge in this task (Sidebar 1.2) is to analyze how DOE

  • Selects potential routes for shipment of research reactor spent fuel to DOE facilities;4

4  

The congressional study charge refers to shipments “between or among” DOE facilities. This language could be interpreted as limiting the charge to shipments from Savannah River

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×
  • Selects a route for a specific shipment;

  • Assesses risks of such a route; and

  • Considers proximity to population, current traffic and accident data, road quality, emergency response capabilities, and proximity to gathering places.

The questions about routing of shipments of research reactor spent fuel, and also the points of contention in the controversies about specific shipments that led to the congressional request for this study, focus on methods of comparing risks of the selected routes with risks of alternatives and the use of such comparisons in routing decisions.

The steps that were followed by DOE to select routes for shipment of foreign research reactor spent fuel are the same steps that DOE expects to follow in its program to ship commercial spent nuclear fuel to a federal repository: first, development of a plan for the program that identifies sets of potential or candidate routes and, then, selection of a specific route at the time of each shipment, with each step guided by, among other considerations, an assessment of the risks of the favored routes versus alternative routes and modes. These steps are dictated by DOE’s general policies regarding transportation of spent nuclear fuel (DOE, 2002b) and are consistent with DOE statements concerning its plans for selecting routes for shipping spent fuel to a federal repository (see Chapter 5). DOE’s experience with research reactor spent fuel shipments therefore has general relevance to commercial spent fuel transportation, although the relevance is limited because the scales of the two activities differ greatly. The foreign research reactor spent fuel transport program is a small-quantity shipping program, whereas the transport program to the federal repository will be a large-quantity shipping program (see glossary, Appendix D).

The subsections below address the questions posed to the committee in the congressional study charge: The first is about procedures for selecting potential routes; the second, about selecting routes for specific shipments; and the third, about consideration of population, traffic, accident, and emergency response capabilities in route selection. DOE’s methods of assessing risk are described in each of these subsections. The descriptions refer primarily to procedures for selecting routes for shipping spent fuel from foreign research reactors, which is the largest category of shipments for which DOE has direct responsibility (see Table 4.1 and 4.2). The final

   

to Idaho National Laboratory or from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Savannah River or Idaho National Laboratory. Such shipments constitute only a minority of all domestic shipments of research reactor spent fuel. The committee decided to consider routing practices for all domestic research reactor spent fuel shipments as explained previously.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

subsection identifies differences in practices for transport of spent fuel from domestic research reactors.

4.3.1 Potential Routes: Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel

DOE has identified the following potential routes for shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel from Charleston Naval Weapons Station to the Savannah River Site, from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory, and from Concord Naval Weapons Station to Idaho National Laboratory:

  • Three alternative highway routes from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory (Figure 4.4), named the blue, red, and black highway routes and published in DOE’s transportation plan for foreign research reactor spent fuel shipments from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory (DOE, 2003a, Appendix 8.1). The plan specifies each road segment and junction on the routes.

  • Preferred and alternate rail routes and one highway route from Charleston Naval Weapons Station to Savannah River published in the DOE transportation plan for foreign research reactor spent fuel shipments between these points (Figure 4.5) (DOE, 2003b, Appendix 8.1).

  • Preferred and alternate rail routes and one highway route from the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California to Idaho National Laboratory announced in advance of the shipment that departed from Concord in 1998 (Figure 4.6) (Nevada, 1997; California, 1998).

These routes were evaluated and published well in advance of shipments, with the intent that routes for specific shipments occurring over a period of years would be selected from among these potential routes. In addition to shipments on these routes, highway shipments of research reactor spent fuel from Canada to Savannah River occurred in 1996 (one package) and 2000 (two packages). No future shipments from Canada are planned at this time (DOE, 2004c, 2005a).

The milestones in development of these potential routes were as follows:

  • The EIS on foreign research reactor spent fuel (DOE, 1996a), which identified and evaluated representative truck and rail routes between 10 potential ports of entry and five potential DOE storage sites.

  • The ROD on the foreign research reactor spent fuel management program (DOE, 1996b), which identified two ports of entry and two storage sites and declared that the preferred transport mode would be rail.

  • Discussions of potential routes with states and tribes through two working groups formed in 1996: the Cross Country Transportation Work-

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 4.5 Highway and rail routes in South Carolina for transportation of foreign research reactor spent nuclear fuel from Charleston Naval Weapons Station to the Savannah River Site. SOURCE: Modified from DOE (2003b).

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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 4.6 Highway and rail routes for transportation of foreign research reactor spent nuclear fuel from Concord Naval Weapons Station to Idaho National Laboratory. SOURCE: Nevada (1997).

ing Group, dealing with shipments from Savannah River-to-Idaho National Laboratory, and the Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Transportation Working Group, dealing with shipments from Charleston to Savannah River. Similar discussions took place between DOE and the affected states and tribes concerning the Concord-to-Idaho National Laboratory route.

  • Publication of transportation plans for shipments from Charleston to Savannah River in 1996, with updates in 1998 and 2003 (DOE, 2003b), and publication of plans for shipments from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory, most recently updated in 2003 (DOE, 2003a), specifying the potential routes as well as procedures for scheduling, advance information, and safety and security en route.

Route Assessments in the EIS and ROD

The 1996 EIS evaluated the risks of transportation of foreign research reactor spent fuel over “representative routes,” by truck and rail, from

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

Charleston to Savannah River, Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory, and Concord to Idaho National Laboratory, as well as other pairs of origins and destinations that were later eliminated from consideration (DOE, 1996a, Appendix E). The risk assessment evaluated specific highway and rail routes, but the selection of routes for evaluation was not intended to indicate that the evaluated routes would necessarily be used for shipments. The EIS states that “specific routes cannot be identified in advance because the route would not be finalized until it had been reviewed and approved by the [US]NRC. The selection of the actual route would be responsive to environmental and other conditions … at the time of shipment” (DOE, 1996a, p. E-21).

The routes evaluated were chosen using two models, HIGHWAY and INTERLINE. These employ databases characterizing the highway and rail networks, respectively, with information on speed and distance for each link in the networks and population densities adjacent to each link. The models can be used to search for routes that minimize time or distance traveled (or some function of distance and time) between a specified origin and destination. Highway routes are constrained to comply with DOT regulations regarding use of the Interstate System highways or state-designated alternate preferred routes, use of Interstate System bypasses around cities, and minimizing the distance traveled between origin and destination points and the Interstate System highway (DOE, 1996a, p. E-33).

The risk of fatalities during transport of foreign research reactor spent fuel was estimated in the EIS using RADTRAN (described in Section 3.1.2 and Sidebar 3.4). The model, which was developed by Sandia National Laboratories, can be used to estimate the expected health consequences of human exposures to radiation during routine transport and in severe accidents. The model also can be used to estimate the expected number of conventional fatalities (i.e., vehicular and pedestrian fatalities) during transportation.

RADTRAN was used to estimate the expected fatalities for the entire foreign research reactor shipping program, based on the quantities of materials and numbers of shipments projected in the EIS, for a scenario in which all shipments are transported by truck and with fuel destined for Idaho National Laboratory or Savannah River according to fuel type (DOE, 1996a, Tables E-14 and E-17). The estimates are as follows:

  • Fatalities from routine transport: 0.1 to 0.2 LCF (latent cancer fatality)

  • Fatalities from releases in severe accidents: 10−5 to 10−4 LCF

  • Conventional fatalities: 0.05 to 0.1 expected fatality

On the basis of these estimates, DOE concluded that “the Final EIS demon-

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

strates that the spent fuel and target material could be safely transported overland within the United States by either truck or rail …” (DOE, 1996b, Sec. VII).

The EIS risk analysis did not seek minimum-risk routes or compare the risks of alternative routes or modes between origin-destination pairs. Truck-versus-rail comparisons may be derived from the results presented, but DOE evidently did not regard the differences in risks as significant. DOE states in its ROD that it “will generally seek to use rail” because “there appears to be a strong preference by some members of the public in the port areas for the use of rail” (DOE, 1996b, Sec. I, IX), rather than on the basis of a comparison of truck and rail risks. In response to public comments about the absence of route specifications in the EIS, DOE explains that “conditions could well change [by] the time the shipments would be made…. Selection of the actual route would be accomplished in consultation with the affected States, Tribes, local officials, and the carrier …” (DOE, 1996b, Sec. VI).

State Working Groups and Transportation Plans

After publication of the ROD, DOE convened two state working groups to serve as forums for consultation with the states and tribes along potential foreign research reactor shipping routes from Charleston to Savannah River and from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory. The consultations were to cover road conditions, emergency response capabilities and needs, and any specific state highway route designations. This approach followed the model of consultation on radioactive waste transportation that had been developed for earlier DOE activities, especially the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) program (see Section 5.2.2).

The Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Transportation Working Group addressed plans for transportation from Charleston to Savannah River and involved South Carolina officials from health, law enforcement, and emergency response agencies. It was organized with the cooperation of the Southern States Energy Board, an organization formed by an interstate compact of 16 southeastern states providing for cooperative energy and environmental programs.

For highway transportation in South Carolina, DOE originally proposed to the working group the predominantly Interstate System route dictated by DOT routing regulations. This route had been evaluated in the EIS (DOE, 1996a, p. E4) and cited in the Web version of the ROD (DOE, 1996c). The state rejected this route because it is indirect, passes near the urban areas of Columbia and Augusta, and includes an interchange with a high accident frequency. The state proposed another highway route, which was adopted in the Charleston-Savannah River transportation plan (DOE,

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

2003b, Appendix 8.1). The alternate route follows mostly roads other than Interstate System highways but is shorter than the Interstate System route, avoids the cities of Columbia and Augusta, and avoids the high-accident interchange. DOT has not published this route as a state-designated preferred route. Selection of the alternate route appears to have been based primarily on the local knowledge and professional judgment of the officials involved, although state officials report that a comparison of accident rates on the routes was carried out.

Because the 1996 ROD had declared that rail would be the preferred mode, the DOE-South Carolina working group began by developing procedures for rail shipments. Whereas the states have authority under federal law to regulate highway routes of spent fuel shipments, they have no legal control over rail routes. Nonetheless, primary and alternate rail routes for Charleston-Savannah River shipments (Figure 4.4), as well as safety procedures, were defined by DOE after consultation with the state and discussions involving the railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration. Rail shipments have been by dedicated train, with routes specified in DOE contracts with the carrier. It is part of DOE’s arrangement with the state that rail will be used for all shipments from Charleston to Savannah River except that truck may be used when four or fewer packages are awaiting transport. Since 1996, 20 of the 23 shipments from Charleston to Savannah River (most comprising multiple packages) have been by rail.

To consult with the states and tribes on Savannah River-to-Idaho National Laboratory shipments, DOE convened the Cross-Country Transportation Working Group, with support from the Southern States Energy Board and the Council of State Governments-Midwestern Office, an association of midwestern states that coordinates those states’ interactions with DOE on radioactive materials transportation. The membership of the working group included representatives of 17 states, two tribal nations, the state regional organizations, and federal agencies (Huizenga et al., 1999). At DOE’s request, the state members were gubernatorial appointees.

DOE initially proposed four highway routes to the group, developed with the HIGHWAY model and similar to the “representative routes” in the EIS. These routes were modified according to recommendations of working group members, and one of the four (the green route, departing South Carolina to the north, through North Carolina) was eliminated because of the group’s concerns about weather and terrain. Some of the state recommendations were based on more detailed examinations of the physical characteristics of the routes than DOE had carried out. For example, South Carolina recommended an improved access route from Savannah River to the Interstate System. The states also favored routes that had been used earlier for radioactive waste shipments, because emergency responders along these routes had already received training.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

During this consultation process, DOE analyzed the transportation risks of the alternative routes using RADTRAN (Weiner and Mills, 1999) and presented the results to the working group. These show small differences among the routes in risks of radiation exposure (ranging from 1 LCF in 10 million trips for the route with the lowest radiation risk to 1 LCF in 6 million trips for the route with the highest risk) and of truck accidents (ranging from 1 fatal truck accident in 16,000 trips to 1 truck accident in 13,500 trips). There is no indication that these estimates had any influence on the initial specification of the routes or on subsequent selection of routes for individual shipments. The green route, the route dropped from consideration because of objections from several states, appears in the RADTRAN estimates to have the lowest risk of radiation exposure fatalities, because it has the lowest total population in proximity to the route, and the second lowest risk of fatalities from truck crashes. It should be noted that many of the working group objections to DOE route proposals arose from particular local conditions that are not taken into account in the RADTRAN estimates. For example, RADTRAN uses state-level average truck accident rates rather than rates specific to individual highway sections.

The understandings that DOE reached with the states and tribes in the working groups regarding routes and transportation procedures for foreign research reactor shipments to Savannah River and Idaho National Laboratory were documented in the two transportation plans (DOE, 2003a, 2003b). These include the following:

  • Maps specifying the highway and (for shipments from Charleston to Savannah River) rail routes to be used

  • Definitions of the responsibilities of all federal and state agencies involved and of commercial carriers

  • Specification of advance notification and shipment tracking practices

  • Specification of additional safety practices, including state-by-state vehicle inspection procedures and use of dedicated trains for rail shipments

  • A public communications plan

  • An emergency response plan that specifies the responsibilities of the parties in the event of an incident during transport

  • In the plan for shipments from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory, a list of special events and of urban areas with rush hours that the states and tribes asked DOE to avoid in scheduling shipments; DOE agreed to minimize conflicts and to notify the state if a conflict were to arise

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

4.3.2 Routes for Specific Shipments: Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel

All recent and currently planned domestic foreign research reactor spent fuel shipments have been from Charleston to Savannah River or from Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory. Packages destined for Idaho National Laboratory normally would arrive at Charleston by sea, be shipped by rail or truck to Savannah River, and remain at Savannah River no more than a few days before being shipped by truck to Idaho National Laboratory (DOE, 2003a, p. 9). Selection of a route for a specific shipment therefore entails deciding which of the potential routes published in the two DOE plans for these movements (DOE, 2003a,b) will be used, and checking to determine if any immediate circumstances require modifying the route.

A transportation services contractor organizes transport and all related activities, with oversight from DOE. For shipments originating in high-income economy countries,5 the foreign reactor operator hires the contractor. For shipments from other than high-income economy countries,6 DOE hires the contractor. The contract specifies that transportation must comply with the provisions of the DOE transportation plan (DOE, 2003a, pp. 5–9). The contractor is responsible for obtaining approval of the intended route from the USNRC, according to the regulatory requirements of 10 CFR 73.37.

DOE officials reported to the committee that in selection of routes for specific shipments, the following factors are considered:

  • DOT highway route selection regulations

  • State and tribal advice regarding

    • Road conditions and construction zones

    • Planned events (e.g., sporting events or festivals)

    • Emergency response and radiological training needs

    • Shipment and truck inspection requirements

    • Rush hour periods through cities

  • RADTRAN accident analysis

  • Shipment schedule, particularly the season of the year

5  

DOE (1996b) identifies the following countries as high-income economy countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and United Kingdom.

6  

DOE (1996b) identifies the following as other than high-income economy countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zaire.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×
  • Number and type of packages to be shipped

  • Possibility of coordination of the foreign research reactor shipment with shipments from DOE or university facilities

  • Any other factor that could affect shipment transit time

DOE reported that the route selection process leads to a recommendation to the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management for approval.

4.3.3 Consideration of Risk Factors: Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel

The study charge asks how route selection takes into account proximity to populations, traffic and accident data, road conditions, emergency response capabilities, and proximity to gatherings. These characteristics of individual trips all affect risk. They depend on the schedule of the trip (time of day, day of the week, and season) as well as the route.

DOE’s practice, in dealing with states and tribes through working groups devoted to foreign research reactor spent fuel transportation, has been to place responsibility for detailed review of highway routes on the states and tribes. In particular, DOE has relied on the states’ and tribes’ local knowledge of accident rates, road and traffic conditions, and public events. Assigning this responsibility to the states is consistent with DOT highway routing regulations, which give states authority to designate preferred routes.

For rail routing, some general guidelines in DOE’s Radioactive Material Transportation Practices Manual (DOE, 2002c, p. 16) state that DOE is to consider track quality (including guidance from the Association of American Railroads concerning rail lines suitable for carrying spent fuel and other hazardous materials) and “operational input from carriers,” and to consult with states and tribes on rail routes. DOE would primarily be dependent on carriers for information on line conditions that would affect safety.

DOE’s quantitative risk analysis of representative routes in the 1996 EIS takes into account population density along the routes, but the risk estimation procedure does not employ data for specific road segments about traffic condition, accident rates, road quality, or places of public gatherings or about analogous factors for specific rail lines. These factors have been explicitly addressed in DOE’s consultation with the states and tribes. The foreign research reactor transportation plans (DOE, 2003a,b), developed cooperatively with the states and tribes, place responsibility on the states and tribes to identify particular conditions that would affect the safety of a route proposed for an individual shipment. During development of the plans, state officials recommended adjustments to the potential routes based

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

on their knowledge of accident histories and traffic conditions at specific locations. The plan for truck shipments to Idaho National Laboratory lists events, public gatherings, and other circumstances along the routes and stipulates that shipments will avoid “major” special events (DOE, 2003a, p. 11). According to the descriptions of the consultative process presented to the committee by the involved parties, decisions on adjustments to routes and schedules arising from consideration of these factors have sometimes been made without benefit of supporting quantitative analysis.

4.3.4 Domestic Research Reactor Spent Fuel

Foreign research reactor spent fuel transportation is an ongoing program managed directly by DOE. The program conforms to detailed published plans and has received considerable scrutiny in the press, from interest groups, and from the state-federal working groups. Transportation of spent fuel from university and other domestic research reactors, in contrast, is a decentralized activity, managed by individual reactor operators. Each operator is responsible for arranging for transportation from its site to a DOE facility and for ensuring that DOT and (for shipments from non-DOE domestic reactors) USNRC regulations are complied with. Perhaps because of this structure, spent fuel transport from domestic research reactors seems rarely to have been a focus of controversy. Thus, for example, while a single shipment of foreign research reactor spent fuel across Missouri in 2001 led to a federal-state confrontation, the University of Missouri research reactor has shipped spent fuel to Savannah River several times a year for many years without comparable notice.

A university that plans to ship spent fuel from a research reactor that it operates will usually contract with a transportation services firm to arrange all aspects of the shipment. The firms that undertake this work are the same firms that contract with DOE to handle its shipments, because the work requires special equipment and expertise. The contractor selects the route for shipment and submits it to the USNRC for approval. The USNRC review checks for compliance with DOT routing regulations (all shipments in recent years from domestic research reactors have been by truck) and with USNRC’s own security requirements. USNRC publishes approved routes. To satisfy USNRC security and notice requirements as well as state procedures, the contractor must coordinate with state public safety officials to arrange for inspections, escorts, permits, and any other special state requirements. Some universities have acted as their own prime contractor, selecting routes themselves and dealing directly with jurisdictions along the routes, and have employed a contractor solely for transportation.

For domestic university research reactor shipments, there is no published plan analogous to the plans DOE prepared for shipments from

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

Charleston to Savannah River and Savannah River to Idaho National Laboratory (DOE, 2003a, 2003b) and no formal standing multistate working groups have been organized. DOE did consider representative routes between university reactors and DOE facilities in its 1995 EIS on spent fuel management (DOE, 1995b), although that analysis did not compare risks for alternative routes.

DOE has shipped research reactor spent fuel from its facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to Idaho National Laboratory and to Savannah River. Transportation plans have been prepared for these shipments following a format similar to that of the foreign research reactor spent fuel transportation plans. The plans were submitted to the states for comment. DOE procedures for preparation of these plans, including the outline of the plans’ contents and provision for state review, are specified in DOE’s Radioactive Material Transportation Practices Manual (DOE, 2002c).

4.3.5 Discussion

In the committee’s judgment, DOE’s procedure for selecting transportation routes in the foreign research reactor spent fuel program appears on the whole to be adequate and reasonable. The elements of this procedure have been the following:

  • A quantitative risk analysis of representative routes and alternative modes is conducted as part of an EIS, to judge whether the transportation activity meets a threshold standard of acceptable safety (but not for the purpose of choosing among alternative routes). In the case of research reactor spent fuel, these evaluations have always concluded that risks are very low.

  • Potential routes are identified following DOT regulations (for highways) in consultation with states and tribes and in discussions with railroads, states, and tribes for rail routes.

  • The actual route used for an individual shipment is selected from among the potential routes, again in consultation with states and tribes, after a review of immediate circumstances (e.g., special events, road construction). Actual route choices also have reflected DOE’s desire to avoid conflicts and minimize delays.

This procedure reflects DOE’s position (which is consistent with DOT regulations) that the states and tribes are competent and responsible for selecting highway routes and, in particular, for having detailed and current local knowledge about accident rates, road and traffic conditions, and events. The route selection process may be described as risk-informed; that is, quantitative estimates of risks are considered alongside other factors,

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

including costs, administrative feasibility, local preferences, and inevitable political considerations. Route selection is not determined wholly by a risk assessment because DOE recognizes that these other valid factors must also be considered.

Experience with research reactor spent fuel shipments indicates that selection of highway routes by complying with DOT highway routing regulations is a reasonable substitute for a process that selects routes through quantitative risk assessments that explicitly compare alternative routes, provided that the shipper actively and systematically consults with the states and tribes along potential routes and that states comply with DOT route designation regulations. Analyses indicate that differences in risk among routes attributable to the factors that current models represent adequately (e.g., distance and population density) are relatively small. Up-to-date, comprehensive, and detailed data on accident rates and other risk factors that would be required for more refined quantitative comparisons of alternative routes do not exist. Factors that cannot readily be incorporated into a quantitative assessment (e.g., emergency response capabilities, schedules of road construction and other transient events) may be predominant influences on differences in risk among alternative routes and must therefore be considered alongside the quantitative risk estimates.

Information on local transport conditions supplied by states and tribes is an essential element in route selection decisions. Detailed state reviews allow for the identification of high-accident-rate segments of the Interstate System as well as the identification of acceptable non-Interstate System routes that would substantially reduce mileage and travel time. Judgments of state officials on such matters are most useful when supported with quantitative evidence.

In controversies over routing, states and others repeatedly have criticized DOE for failure to carry out comparative quantitative risk evaluations of alternative routes. DOE could respond to this concern by developing improved risk evaluation tools for comparative route analysis and by giving the results of such analyses appropriate weight in decision making.

In planning routes for the foreign research reactor program, trade-offs were made whose safety implications were not explicitly analyzed. For example, instances were described to the committee in which route selection was influenced by state officials’ preference for one proposed route over an alternative with a lower population density that was believed to have a higher accident rate, without a quantitative assessment of the risk implications. Also, states have sometimes expressed preference for routes on which emergency response personnel have already received the necessary training. This could favor the selection of routes through more densely populated areas if emergency responders there have higher levels of training. As a final example, complying with schedule restrictions on shipments

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

might conceivably entail delaying a vehicle en route rather than driving through a city during peak traffic periods (rush hour). DOE does not have a methodology for quantitatively evaluating the risk implications of such trade-offs.

For rail route selection, DOE’s practice of negotiating routes with carriers in consultation with states is analogous to its interaction with states on highway routing. There is no indication that enacting regulations governing rail route selection for spent fuel shipments would improve safety compared with the present DOE practice of contractually specifying routes that have been negotiated with carriers, after consultation with the states and tribes.

Procedures for shipments from university reactors differ from DOE’s practices for planning foreign research reactor spent fuel shipments. In particular, route planning for university shipments generally has not included procedures similar to DOE’s formal consultations with working groups of state and tribal representatives or DOE’s publication of transportation plans specifying routes, shipment procedures, and responsibilities and commitments of all parties. University shipments are not a direct DOE responsibility, so DOE’s policies regarding preparation of transportation plans do not apply to them. Nonetheless, if similar plans were published for university shipments, there might be some gains in safety (e.g., because they would help to facilitate discussions between shippers, states, and tribes and could thereby lead to more coordinated shipping operations) and in public understanding of these shipments.

4.4 RESPONSES TO THE STUDY CHARGE

The charge for the committee’s task regarding routing of spent fuel shipments from research reactors (Sidebar 1.2) was defined by Congress in Section 334 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003. Each of the main provisions of that charge appears in italics below, followed by a summary of the committee’s response. The charge refers only to shipments for which DOE is responsible. These include shipments from DOE reactors and shipments of spent fuel from foreign research reactors. The committee also examined practices for shipments from other domestic research reactors (which are not carried out by DOE) because that experience is relevant to the problem of route selection and to the committee’s original task of identifying technical and societal issues concerning spent fuel transport.

Sec. 334 (b) … the National Academy of Sciences shall analyze the manner in which the Department of Energy—

(1) selects potential routes for the shipment of spent nuclear fuel from

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

research nuclear reactors between or among existing Department facilities currently licensed to accept such spent nuclear fuel.

DOE has selected potential routes for domestic shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel since 1996 according to the following procedure: First, quantitative risk analyses of representative routes and alternative modes were conducted as part of the NEPA process and published in EISs. The objective of these analyses was to determine whether the transportation activity would meet a threshold standard of acceptable safety. Second, DOE issued RODs that narrowed the range of potential origins, destinations, modes, and routes, citing considerations of practicality, safety, and preferences expressed in public comments. Third, a set of potential routes was specified in detail, based primarily on DOT regulations (for highways) and following a formal consultation process with affected states and tribes, and after discussions with railroads and states (for rail routes). Finally, potential routes were published in transportation plans that were reviewed by the states and tribes. Planning for shipments from DOE research reactors has followed a similar procedure. The committee’s analysis of selection of potential routes appears in Section 4.3.1.

(2) selects such a route for a specific shipment of such spent nuclear fuel.

For shipments of spent fuel from foreign research reactors, the route for each shipment is selected from among potential routes defined in the transportation plans. All such shipments that are now planned will be between Charleston Naval Weapons Station and DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina or between the Savannah River Site and Idaho National Laboratory. States and tribes are consulted as part of this selection procedure, and state and tribal preferences are taken into account in making final route selections. DOE may also in the past have taken into account the quality of its working relationships with states along the potential routes in making final selections. Once a route has been selected, states and tribes are required to receive advance notification of shipments and are to inform DOE of conditions within their jurisdictions that may affect these shipments. Before a route is selected for a specific shipment, it is submitted to the USNRC for approval of security provisions. USNRC evaluations have influenced final route selections (see, for example, Section 4.1.1).

Procedures for shipments from DOE research reactors are similar, except that routes for these shipments are not submitted to the USNRC for approval. For shipments from university reactors, normally an agent of the licensee who is managing the transportation submits a proposed route complying with DOT regulations for USNRC review and coordinates the movement with jurisdictions along the route. The committee’s analysis of the selection of routes for specific shipments appears in Section 4.3.2.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

FINDING: The Department of Energy’s procedures for selecting routes within the United States for shipments of foreign research reactor spent fuel appear on the whole to be adequate and reasonable. These procedures are risk informed; they make use of standard risk assessment methodologies in identifying a suite of potential routes and then make final route selections by taking into account security, state and tribal preferences, and information from states and tribes on local transport conditions. The Department of Energy’s procedures reflect the agency’s position (which is consistent with Department of Transportation regulations) that the states are competent and responsible for selecting highway routes. For rail route selection, the Department of Energy’s practice of negotiating routes with carriers in consultation with states is analogous to its interaction with states on highway routing.


RECOMMENDATION: The Department of Energy should continue to ensure the systematic, effective involvement of states and tribal governments in its decisions involving routing and scheduling of foreign and DOE research reactor spent fuel shipments.

(3) conducts assessments of the risks associated with shipments of such spent nuclear fuel along such a route.

The EISs included quantitative risk assessments that produced estimates of expected numbers of fatalities for representative routes from transportation accidents, radiation exposure during incident-free transportation, and as a consequence of releases of radioactive material during accidents. The risk assessments did not seek minimum-risk routes or compare risks of alternative routes. DOE stated that more refined assessments were not possible in the EISs because actual routes could not be selected until shipments are actually made, after consultation with states and review by USNRC. DOE presented additional estimates of risks of alternative routes to the states and tribes during development of the foreign research reactor spent fuel transportation plans, but these estimates appear not to have influenced route selections. The committee’s analysis of DOE’s assessments of risks of shipments appears in Sections 4.3.1, 4.3.2, and 4.3.3.

(c) The analysis under subsection (b) shall include a consideration whether, and to what extent, the procedures analyzed for purposes of that subsection take into account the following:

(1) The proximity of the routes under consideration 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) The quality of the roads comprising the routes under consideration.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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.
×

(4) Emergency response capabilities along the routes under consideration.

(5) The 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.

DOE’s practice has been to place responsibility for detailed review of highway routes on the states and tribes. The quantitative risk analyses in the EISs take into account population density, but not traffic conditions, accident rates for specific route segments, road quality, emergency response capabilities, or places of public gatherings. Rather, DOE has considered these factors through its consultations with the states and tribes and in consultations on rail routes involving carriers, states, and the Federal Railroad Administration. DOE has modified routes according to state proposals derived from consideration of these factors. In some instances, states themselves have examined accident data or conducted risk analyses of specific routes, but most state proposals on routing have been based primarily on judgments of state officials. The committee’s analysis of DOE’s consideration of the listed factors in route selection appears in Section 4.3.


FINDING: Highway routes for shipment of spent nuclear fuel are dictated by DOT regulations (49 CFR Part 397). The regulations specify that shipments normally must travel by the fastest route using highways designated by the states or the federal government. They do not require the carrier or shipper to evaluate risks of portions of routes that meet this criterion. These regulations are a satisfactory means of ensuring safe transportation, provided that the shipper actively and systematically consults with the states and tribes along potential routes and that states follow the route designation procedures prescribed by the DOT.


RECOMMENDATION: DOT should ensure that states that designate routes for shipment of spent nuclear fuel rigorously comply with its regulatory requirement that such designations be supported by sound risk assessments. DOT and DOE should ensure that all potentially affected states are aware of and prepared to fulfill their responsibilities regarding highway route designations.

Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Transport of Research Reactor Spent Fuel to Interim Storage." 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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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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