Radiological Materials on California Roads
Radioactive materials are routinely transported in California. This includes the medical and industrial sources described below, as well as wastes that have radioactive components. Many of the radioactive waste shipments come from research and clean-up efforts at national laboratories. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission heavily regulate the transport of radioactive materials and wastes. These regulations require:
-> Use of special packaging based on the hazard of the shipment
-> Extensive worker training and documentation
-> Vehicle and package inspections of companies that ship radioactive materials
-> Use of specific, controlled routes
Shipments of highly radioactive materials (such as spent or used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants) require heavy shielding in the casks used for transport in order to limit radiological exposure to nearby workers or people.
Transportation of Department of Energy Wastes
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for transporting radioactive wastes that were generated at defense-related facilities, such as facilities that played a role in the research, development and production of nuclear weapons. The wastes from these facilities consist of such items as laboratory clothing, tools, glove boxes, rubber gloves, glassware, and air filters. These wastes are contaminated with small amounts of radioactive materials such as plutonium and americium, and small amounts of hazardous chemicals. The DOE arranges for transportation of these wastes to a deep geologic disposal facility, called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located 2,150 feet underground in southern New Mexico, about 25 miles east of Carlsbad.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Safety
All WIPP waste shipments use extremely sturdy shipping casks that can hold the wastes in 55-gallon steel drums or boxes. The shipping casks have been constructed to withstand severe accidents without releasing their contents. The DOE imposes rigorous driver and carrier performance requirements to ensure that only highly trained drivers and specially-equipped trucks are used for WIPP shipments. WIPP safety protocols include the use of trained drivers, truck and cask inspections, shipment tracking using satellite-based technology and communication systems, weather and road condition checks prior to departure, identification of safe parking areas on the route, route selection protocols, training for state and local emergency responders, and emergency response plans.
The California Highway Patrol inspects all shipments originating in California and escorts shipments in California. Prior to departure, trucks and casks must pass a rigorous vehicle safety inspection by highway patrol inspectors and DOE. Emergency response training and radiological detection instruments have been provided to public safety personnel in counties along the WIPP-transit routes. Shipments are scheduled to avoid holidays and peak tourist events along routes.
More WIPP Information
California Energy Commission
U.S. Department of Energy
More Information on Transportation of Radiological Materials
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
American Nuclear Society