The National Academies

NCHRP 20-61 [Final]

Transportation of Radioactive Waste

  Project Data
Funds: $50,000 (NCHRP contribution to $842,000 multi-sponsored National Academies' policy study)
Research Agency: National Research Council (Division on Earth Life Sciences/Transportation Research Board)
Principal Investigator: Kevin D. Crowley/Joseph Morris
Effective Date: 3/25/2003
Completion Date: 11/30/2005
Comments: Completed and published as National Research Council Report, Going the Distance

The U.S. Department of Energy is leading an effort to develop a monitored geologic repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) from commercial and defense nuclear plants. If such a repository is licensed and opened, it could receive SNF and HLW from more than 70 commercial and defense storage sites scattered across the United States. This material would be shipped in heavily shielded containers by rail or truck.

The program to transport SNF/HLW to the repository is planned to last for 40 years and is estimated to cost $6 billion in current dollars. It will require on the order of 100,000 truck shipments or 20,000 rail shipments, each containing up to millions of curies of radioactivity. Transportation routes may include heavily traveled corridors in the western and mid-western United States, many passing through large metropolitan areas, possibly including the city of Las Vegas, which is located about 100 miles from Yucca Mountain.

This transportation effort will be unprecedented in magnitude and geographic extent, and there is increasing concern on the part of many parties about potential impacts along likely transportation corridors. Members of the public are concerned about the safety of these shipments and, in particular, the potential for accidents that could release significant quantities of radioactivity. Corridor states and local governments are also concerned about public safety as well as their ability to provide adequate emergency response should an accident occur. Federal agencies responsible for regulating and shipping SNF/HLW believe that transportation is a low-risk activity, especially compared with other transportation hazards, but they are concerned about public and state/local government acceptance, particularly in view of the growing resistance to recent efforts to transport spent research reactor fuel, defense spent fuel, and transuranic waste within the United States.

Under current schedules, the transport of SNF/HLW to a geologic repository in the United States will not occur until early in the next decade at the earliest. In an effort to spend the intervening years wisely, the National Academies' Board on Radioactive Waste Management (BRWM) and TRB undertook a study to develop a high-level synthesis of the key technical and societal issues. It also identified technical and policy options for government decision makers, who are responsible for developing, funding, implementing, and regulating the federal government's SNF/HLW transportation programs.

The results of this multi-sponsored study have been published as National Research Council Report, Going the Distance, available through the National Academies Press of the National Academies.

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