Transport of Radioactive Materials

(Updated May 2017)

  • Radioactive material accounts for less than 5% of all hazardous material shipped each year.
  • About 20 million consignments of radioactive material are transported each year on public roads, railways, and ships.
  • Radioactive material is not unique to the nuclear fuel cycle, and less than 10% of radioactive consignments are related to nuclear power.
  • Transport is an integral part of the nuclear fuel cycle; uranium mining occurs in about 30 countries, with most production from countries without nuclear power.
  • Since 1971 there have been at least 25,000 shipments of used nuclear fuel, covering many millions of kilometres on land and sea, and at least 130 shipments of vitrified high-level waste (over 2300 canisters).
  • Though transport is a very minor cost in the nuclear fuel cycle, lack of harmonisation and over-regulation in authorisation creates problems for transport between countries.

International regulations for the transport of radioactive material have been published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1961. The IAEA has regularly issued revisions to the transport regulations in order to keep them up-to-date. The latest edition of its Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material was released in 2012. The IAEA regulations have been widely adopted into national policies, as well as by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and regional transport organisations.

The objective of the regulations is to protect people and the environment from the effects of radiation during the transport of radioactive material. Protection is achieved by:

  • Containment of radioactive contents.
  • Control of external radiation levels.
  • Prevention of criticaility.
  • Prevention of damage caused by heat.

The fundamental principle applied to the transport of radioactive material is that the protection comes from the design of the package, regardless of how the material is transported.

Radioactive material (defined as Class 7 material in the UN Model Regulations) is not unique to the nuclear fuel cycle, and less than 10% of radioactive material consignments are fuel cycle related. Radioactive materials are used extensively in medicine, agriculture, research, manufacturing, non-destructive testing, and minerals exploration (for further information see information paper on The Many Uses of Nuclear Technology). Regulatory control of shipments of radioactive material is independent of the material's intended application.

About 20 million consignments of radioactive material take place around the world each year. Since 1961, when the IAEA's safe transport regulations were first issued, over one billion consignments have been safely completed.

In the USA, flammable, explosive, corrosive, or poisonous materials account for the vast majority – over 95% – ​of the hazardous material shipped each year. According to the US Department of Transportation, just 0.5% of the total cost related to the shipping of hazardous material each year is attributable to radioactive substances. About 3,000,000 packages containing radioactive material are shipped each year, with about 250,000 containing wastes from US nuclear power plants, and 25 to 100 contain used fuel. The used fuel shipments are made in robust 125-tonne Type B casks carried by rail, each containing up to about 24 tonnes of used fuel (for further information see information paper on Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission notes: “Over the last 40 years, thousands of shipments of commercially generated spent nuclear fuel have been made throughout the USA without causing any radiological releases to the environment or harm to the public.” Most of these shipments are between different power plants owned by the same utility, so as to share storage space for spent fuel. The US Department of Transportation estimates that the average distance per shipment of radioactive material is about 55 kilometres, well below the 185 kilometre average across all hazardous materials.

Nuclear materials have been transported since before the advent of nuclear power over 60 years ago. The procedures employed are designed to ensure the protection of the public and the environment both routinely and when transport accidents occur. For the generation of a given quantity of electricity, the amount of nuclear fuel required is very much smaller than the amount of any other fuel. Therefore, the conventional risks and environmental impacts associated with fuel transport are greatly reduced with nuclear power.

Materials to be transported

Transport is an integral part of the nuclear fuel cycle. There are 447 operable nuclear power reactors in 31 countries, but uranium mining occurs in only 30, with most production from countries without nuclear power. Furthermore, in the course of over 60 years of the nuclear power industry, a number of specialised facilities have been developed in various locations around the world to provide fuel cycle services.

Most material used in nuclear fuel is transported several times during its progress through the fuel cycle. Transport is frequently international and often over large distances, but is a very minor cost in the overall fuel cycle. Much of the material moved is similar to that from other industrial activities. However, nuclear fuel, which is mildly radioactive, and some wastes that are significantly more so, are the focus of attention. Any substantial quantity of radioactive material is generally transported by specialised companies. (For further information on nuclear waste, see information paper on Radioactive Waste Management).

The term 'transport' is used in this document to refer only to the movement of material between facilities (i.e. through areas outside such facilities’ boundaries). Most consignments of nuclear fuel material occur between different stages of the cycle, but occasionally material may be transported between similar facilities. When the stages are directly linked (such as mining and milling) the facilities for the different stages are usually on the same site, and no transport is required.

With very few exceptions, nuclear fuel cycle materials are transported in solid form. The following table shows the principal nuclear material transport activities.

Stages of nuclear transport

From: To: Material Notes
Mining Milling Ore Rare: usually on the same site
Milling Conversion Uranium oxide concentrate ('yellowcake') Usually 200-litre drums holding 400 kg, in standard six-metre transport containers
Conversion Enrichment Natural uranium hexafluoride
Special UF6 containers, type 48Y
Enrichment Fuel fabrication Enriched UF6 Special UF6 containers, type 30B
Fuel fabrication Power generation Fresh (unused) fuel Type A unless MOX: Type B
Power generation Used fuel storage Used fuel After onsite storage, large Type B casks
Used fuel storage Disposal* Used fuel Large Type B casks
Used fuel storage Reprocessing Used fuel Large Type B casks
Reprocessing Conversion Uranium oxide Called reprocessed uranium (RepU)
Reprocessing Fuel fabrication Plutonium oxide  
Reprocessing Disposal* Fission products Vitrified (incorporated into glass)
All facilities Storage/disposal Waste materials Sometimes on the same site

*Not yet taking place

Although some waste disposal facilities are located adjacent to the facilities that they serve, using one disposal site to manage the wastes from several facilities usually reduces environmental impacts and associated costs. When shared disposal is used, transport from individual facilities to the disposal site will be required. (For further information, see information paper on Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes.)

Uranium oxide concentrate ('yellowcake')

​Uranium oxide concentrate, sometimes called yellowcake, is transported from mines to conversion plants. Transport takes place in 200-litre drums, each holding about 400 kg U3O8, packed into normal six-metre shipping containers. No radiation protection is required beyond having the steel drums clean and within the shipping container.

The importance of safe and secure yellowcake transport is evidenced by the fact that 80% of uranium is mined in just five countries, only one of which (Canada) uses uranium for nuclear power.

In Australia, over more than three decades to 2014, 11,000 shipping containers of U3O8 were moved from mines to ports with no incident affecting public health.

Natural and enriched UF6

To and from enrichment plants, uranium is in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which has low levels of radioactivity, but significant chemical toxicity. Natural uranium as hexafluoride is usually shipped to enrichment plants in Type 48Y cylinders, each 122 cm diameter and holding about 12.5 tonnes of UF6 (8.4 tU). These cylinders are then used for long-term storage of depleted uranium as hexafluoride, typically at the enrichment site. Enriched uranium is shipped to fuel fabricators in smaller Type 30B cylinders, each with a 76 cm diameter and holding 2.27 t UF6 (1.54 tU).

Fresh fuel

Uranium fuel assemblies are manufactured at fuel fabrication plants. The fuel assemblies are made up of ceramic pellets formed from pressed U3O8 that has been sintered at a high temperature (over 1400°C). The pellets are aligned within long, hollow metal rods, which in turn are arranged in the fuel assemblies, ready for introduction into the reactor.

Different types of reactor require different types of fuel assembly, so when the fuel assemblies are transported from the fuel fabrication facility to the nuclear power reactor, the contents of the shipment will vary depending on the type of reactor receiving it.

In Western Europe, Asia and the USA, the most common means of transporting uranium fuel assemblies is by truck. A typical truckload supplying a light water reactor contains six tonnes of fuel. In Russia and Eastern Europe rail transport is most often used. Intercontinental transport is mostly by sea, though occasionally by air.

The annual operation of a 1000 MWe light water reactor requires an average fuel load of 27 tonnes of uranium dioxide, containing 24 tonnes of enriched uranium. The required annual fuel load can be transported in 4 or 5 trucks. The fuel assemblies are transported in packages specially constructed to protect them from damage during transport. Uranium fuel assemblies have a low radioactivity level and radiation shielding is not necessary.

Fuel assemblies contain fissile material and criticality is prevented by the design of the package (including the arrangement of the fuel assemblies within it, and limitations on the amount of material contained within the package), and the maximum number of packages carried in one shipment.

Used fuel

Used fuel from a nuclear power reactor contains 96% uranium, 3% fission products, and 1% plutonium as well as a small amount of other transuranics.

Used fuel emits high levels of both radiation and heat, and so is stored in water pools adjacent to the reactor to allow the initial heat and radiation levels to decrease. Typically, used fuel is stored onsite for at least five months before it can be transported, although it may be stored there long-term. From the reactor site, used fuel is transported by road, rail, or sea to either an interim storage site or a reprocessing plant.

Used fuel assemblies are shipped in Type B casks which are shielded with steel, or a combination of steel and lead, and can weigh up to 110 tonnes when empty. A typical transport cask holds about 6 to 20 tonnes of used fuel.

Since 1971 there have been some 7000 shipments of used fuel (over 35,000 tonnes) globally, over many millions of kilometres, with no breach of containment, property damage, or personal injury, and with only a very low dose rate to the personnel involved (e.g. 0.33 mSv/yr per operator at La Hague). This includes 40,000 tonnes of used fuel shipped to Areva's La Hague reprocessing plant, at least 30,000 tonnes of mostly UK used fuel shipped to the UK's Sellafield reprocessing plant, 7040 tonnes of used fuel in over 160 shipments from Japan to Europe by sea, and over 4500 tonnes of used fuel shipped around the Swedish coast. In the USA, naval spent fuel is routinely shipped by rail to Idaho National Laboratory.

Some 300 sea voyages have been made carrying used nuclear fuel or separated high-level waste over a cumulative distance of more than 8 million kilometres. The major company involved has transported over 4000 casks, each of about 100 tonnes, carrying 8000 tonnes of used fuel or separated high-level wastes. A quarter of these have been through the Panama Canal.

In Sweden, more than 80 large transport casks are shipped annually to the CLAB central interim waste storage facility. Each 80-tonne cask has steel walls 30 cm thick and holds 17 BWR or 7 PWR fuel assemblies. The used fuel is shipped to CLAB after it has been stored for about a year at the reactor, during which time heat and radioactivity diminish considerably. Some 6500 tonnes of used fuel had been transported to CLAB by end-2016, much of it around the coast by ship.

Shipments of used fuel from Japan to Europe for reprocessing used 94-tonne Type B casks, each holding a number of fuel assemblies (e.g. 12 PWR assemblies, total 6 tonnes, with each cask 6.1 metres long, 2.5 metres diameter, and with 25 cm thick forged steel walls). More than 160 of these shipments took place from 1969 to the 1990s, involving more than 4000 casks, and moving several thousand tonnes of highly radioactive used fuel – 4200 tonnes to the UK and 2940 tonnes to France (for further information see information paper on Japanese Waste and MOX Shipments From Europe).

In the USA, about 2400 tonnes of used fuel from commercial power plants was transported over 1979-2007.

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization has published a report showing spent nuclear fuel shipments worldwide:

  • Canada: five per year by road.
  • ​USA: 3000 to 2015 by road, rail, and ship.
  • Sweden: 40 per year by ship.
  • UK: 300 per year by rail.
  • ​France: 250 per year by rail.
  • Germany: 40 per year by rail.
  • ​Japan: 200 to 2013 by ship.

Areva TN and EdF report 5000 rail and road shipments of used fuel from 1981 to 2015, with a current rate of more than 200 per year. More than 16,000 high burn-up fuel assemblies have been transported.

(For further information, see information paper on Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes, since storage and transport often have a lot in common).

Plutonium oxide

​Plutonium is separated during the reprocessing of used fuel. It is normally then made into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

Plutonium is transported, following reprocessing, as an oxide powder, since this is its most stable form. It is insoluble in water and only harmful to humans if it enters the lungs.

Plutonium oxide is transported in several different types of sealed package and each can contain several kilograms of material. Criticality is prevented by the design of the package, limitations on the amount of material contained within the package, and on the number of packages carried on a transport vessel. Special physical protection measures apply to plutonium consignments.

A typical consignment consists of one truck carrying one protected shipping container. The container holds a number of packages with a total weight varying from 80 to 200 kg of plutonium oxide.

Vitrified waste

​The highly radioactive wastes (especially fission products) created in the nuclear reactor are segregated and recovered during reprocessing. These wastes are incorporated in a glass matrix by a process known as 'vitrification', which stabilises the radioactive material.

The molten glass is poured into a stainless steel canister where it cools and solidifies. A lid is welded into place to seal the canister. The canisters are then placed inside a Type B cask, similar to those used for the transport of used fuel. To 2016 at least 130 shipments of vitrified high-level waste had been made, with over 2300 canisters.

The quantity per shipment depends upon the capacity of the transport cask. Typically a vitrified waste transport cask contains up to 28 canisters of glass.

Nuclear waste shipments from Europe to Japan since 1995 are of vitrified high-level waste in stainless steel canisters. Up to 28 canisters (total 14 tonnes) are packed in each 94-tonne steel transport cask, the same as used for irradiated fuel. Over 1995-2007 twelve shipments were made from France of vitrified HLW comprising 1310 canisters in total and containing almost 700 tonnes of glass. Shipments of returned nuclear waste from the UK commenced in 2010, and there will be about 11 shipments over at least eight years to move about 900 canisters.

Waste materials

Low-level and intermediate-level wastes (LLW and ILW) are generated throughout the nuclear fuel cycle and from the production of radioisotopes used in medicine, industry, and other areas. The transport of these wastes is commonplace between waste treatment facilities and storage sites.

LLW comprises a variety of materials that emit low levels of radiation slightly above normal background levels. It often consists of solid materials, such as clothing, tools, or contaminated soil. LLW is transported from its origin to waste treatment sites, or to an intermediate or final storage facility.

A variety of radionuclides give LLW its radioactive character. However, the radiation levels from these materials are very low and the packaging used for the transport of LLW does not require special shielding.

LLW is transported in drums, often after being compacted in order to reduce the total volume of waste. The drums commonly used contain up to 200 litres of material. LLW is moved by road, rail, and internationally by sea. However, most LLW is only transported within the country where it is produced.

The composition of ILW is broad, but unlike LLW it requires shielding due to radioactivity levels. Much ILW comes from nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities.

ILW is taken from its source to an interim storage site, a final storage site (as is the case in Sweden), or a waste treatment facility. It is transported by road, rail, and sea.

In the USA there had been over 9000 road shipments of defence-related transuranic waste for permanent disposal in the deep geological repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico, by October 2010, without any major accident or any release of radioactivity. Almost half the shipments were from Idaho National Laboratory. The repository, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), is about 700 m deep in a Permian salt formation.

Packaging of materials

When radioactive materials are transported, it is important to ensure that radiation exposure to the personnel involved in the transport and the general public along the transport routes is avoided. Packaging for radioactive materials includes, where appropriate, shielding to reduce potential radiation exposure. For some materials, such as fresh uranium fuel assemblies, the radiation levels are negligible and no shielding is required. Other materials, such as used fuel and HLW, are highly radioactive and purpose-designed containers with integral shielding are used. To limit the risk in handling of highly radioactive materials, dual-purpose containers (casks), which are appropriate for both storage and transport of used nuclear fuel, are often used (for further information see  information paper on Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes).


As with other hazardous materials being transported, packages of radioactive materials are labelled in accordance with the requirements of national and international regulations. These labels not only indicate that the material is radioactive by including a radiation symbol, but also give an indication of the radiation field in the vicinity of the package.

The principal assurance of safety in the transport of nuclear materials is the design of the packaging, which must allow for foreseeable accidents. The consignor bears primary responsibility for this as well as for the training of personnel directly involved in the transport. Many different radioactive materials are transported and the degree of potential hazard from these materials varies considerably. Conditions which packages are tested to withstand include: fire, impact, wetting, pressure, heat, and cold. Packages of radioactive material are checked prior to shipping and, when it is found to be necessary, cleaned to remove contamination.

Different packaging standards have been developed by the IAEA according to the characteristics and potential hazard posed by the different types of nuclear material. The IAEA’s guidelines are complex, but identify five different categories of primary package based on the activity and physical form of the waste being transported. The categories are: Excepted, Industrial, Type A, Type B, and Type C.


Ordinary industrial containers are used for low-activity material such as uranium oxide concentrate shipped from mines. About 36 standard 200-litre drums fit into a standard six-metre transport container. They are also used for LLW transport within countries.

Type A

'Type A' packages are used for the transport of relatively small, but significant, quantities of radioactive material. They are designed to withstand accidents and are used for limited quantities of medium-activity materials, such as medical or industrial radioisotopes as well as some nuclear fuel materials.

Type B

A particular ‘Type B’ package is used for shipping uranium hexafluoride (UF6), where the main accident hazard is chemical rather than radiological. Natural uranium is usually shipped to enrichment plants in Type 48Y cylinders, 122 cm diameter and each holding about 12.5 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride. These cylinders are then used for long-term storage of depleted uranium as hexafluoride, typically at the enrichment site. Due to criticality considerations, enriched uranium is shipped to fuel fabricators in smaller Type 30B cylinders, 76 cm diameter and 2.1 m long, each holding 2.27 t UF6. These may be shipped with overpacks. Both kinds of uranium hexafluoride cylinder must withstand a pressure test of at least 1.4 MPa, a drop test, and survive a fire of 800°C for 30 minutes.

Type B packages used for HLW, used fuel, and MOX fuel are robust and very secure casks. They range from drum-size to truck-size and maintain shielding from gamma and neutron radiation, even under extreme accident conditions. Designs are certified by national authorities. There are over 150 certified Type B packages, and the larger ones cost around $1.6 million each.

In France alone, there are some 750 shipments each year of Type B packages. This is in relation to 15 million shipments classified as 'dangerous goods', 300,000 of which are of radioactive materials of some kind.

An example of a Type B shipping package is Holtec’s HI-STAR 80 cask (STAR = storage, transport and repository), a multi-layered steel cylinder which holds 12 PWR or 32 BWR high-burnup used fuel assemblies (above 45 GWd/t), and which have had cooling times as short as 18 months (for further information see information paper on Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes).

Type C

Smaller amounts of high-activity materials (including plutonium) transported by aircraft are in 'Type C' packages, which give even greater protection than Type B packages in accident scenarios. They can survive being dropped from an aircraft at cruising altitude.

Although not required by transport regulations, the nuclear industry chooses to undertake some shipments of nuclear material using dedicated, purpose-built transport vehicles or vessels.

Purpose-built transportation

In 1993, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced the voluntary Code for the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High-Level Radioactive Wastes in Flasks on Board Ships (INF Code), complementing the IAEA Regulations. These  provisions mainly cover ship design, construction, and equipment. The INF Code came into force in January 2001 and introduced advanced safety features for ships carrying used fuel, MOX, or vitrified HLW.

There are at least five small purpose-built ships ranging from 1250 to 2200 DWT, and four purpose-built ships ranging from 3800 to 5000 DWT, able to carry Type B casks and other materials. They conform to all relevant international safety standards, notably INF-3 (Irradiated Nuclear Fuel class 3) set by the IMO, allowing them to carry highly radioactive materials such as HLW and used nuclear fuel, as well as mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, and plutonium.

The three largest ships belong to a British-based company Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL), a subsidiary of International Nuclear Services Ltd (INS)*. The three PNTL vessels currently in service, the Pacific Heron, Pacific Egret, and Pacific Grebe were launched in Japan in 2008, 2010, and 2010, respectively. All have double hulls separated by impact-resistant structures, together with duplication and separation of all essential systems to provide high reliability and significant contingency in the event of an accident. Twin engines operate independently. Each ship can carry up to 20 or 24 transport casks. Each ship is 4916 tonnes (DWT) and 104 metres long. Pacific Grebe carries mainly wastes, whilst the other two usually carry consignments of MOX fuel. Earlier ships in the PNTL fleet mainly carried Japanese used fuel to Europe for reprocessing. The PNTL fleet has completed more than 180 shipments with more than 2000 casks over some 40 years, covering a cumulative total of about 10 million kilometres, without any incident resulting in the release of radioactivity.

* PNTL is now owned by International Nuclear Services Ltd (INS, 68.75%), Japanese utilities (18.75%) and Areva (12.5%). INS is in turn owned by the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

In 2013 Sweden’s SKB commissioned the Sigrid, a slightly larger replacement for its 1982 vessel the Sigyn. Sigrid was built by Damen Shipyards and carried its first shipment in January 2014. It is used for moving used fuel from reactors to the CLAB interim waste storage facility. Sigrid is equipped with a double hull, four engines, and redundant systems for safety and security. Sigrid is 99.5 metres long and 18.6 metres wide, 1600 DWT and capable of carrying 12 nuclear waste casks. (Sigyn was 1250 DWT and carried ten casks).

Rosatomflot is operating the 1620 DWT Rossita, built in Italy and completed in 2011. It is designed for transporting spent nuclear fuel and materials of decommissioned nuclear submarines from Russian Navy bases in northwest Russia. It will be used on the Northern Sea Route, between Gremikha, Andreeva Bay, Saida Bay, Severodvinsk, and other places hosting facilities which dismantle nuclear submarines. Spent fuel is to be delivered to Murmansk for rail shipment to Mayak. Rosatomflot has the Serebryanka (1625 DWT, 102 metres long, built 1974) already in service. The Imandra (2186 DWT, 130 metres long, built 1980) is described as a floating technical base but is reported to be already in service transporting used fuel and wastes from the Nerpa shipyard and Gremikha to Murmansk. (Andreeva Bay is the primary naval spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste storage facility for the Northern Fleet, some 60 km from the Norwegian border. It has about 21,000 naval spent nuclear fuel assemblies and about 12,000 m3 of solid and liquid radioactive wastes.)

Rossita is an ice-class vessel and is designed to operate in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. The ship is 84 metres long and 14 m wide, has two engines, and two isolated cargo holds with a total capacity of 720 tonnes. The €70 million vessel was given to Russia as part of Italy’s commitment to the G8 partnership program for cleaning up naval nuclear wastes, and is designed to cover all needs in spent nuclear fuel and radwaste shipments in northwest Russia throughout the entire period of cleaning up these territories.

Rosatomflot also operates a new vessel built in Italy under a 2013 contract, the semi-submersible pontoon dock Itarus, delivered in 2016. It is designed to transport three-compartment units of dismantled Russian nuclear submarines for SevRAO in Saida Bay.

Accident scenarios

There has never been any accident in which a Type B transport cask containing radioactive materials has been breached or has leaked. A significant accident in the USA in 1971 demonstrated the integrity of a Type B cask, which was later returned to service.

The safety features built into Type B containers are very significant. For the radioactive material in a large Type B package in sea transit to become exposed, the ship's hold (inside double hulls) would need to rupture, the 25 cm thick steel cask would need to rupture, and the stainless steel flask or the fuel rods would need to be broken open. Either borosilicate glass (for reprocessed wastes) or ceramic fuel material would then be exposed, but in either case these materials are very insoluble.

The purpose-built transport ships described above are designed to withstand a side-on collision with a large oil tanker. If the ship did sink, the casks would remain sound for many years and would be relatively easy to recover since instrumentation including location beacons would activate and monitor the casks.

Challenges in radioactive material transport

The majority – over 95% in the USA – of radioactive material transported is radioisotopes for medical and industrial use (for further information see information paper on The Many Uses of Nuclear Technology). A 2015 Euratom Supply Agency study identified lack of harmonisation and over-regulation in transport authorisation for radioactive materials, particularly between countries, as a significant risk from a security of supply perspective.

Multiple layers of regulation and a lack of international consistency are considerable disincentives, and may deter companies from executing shipments. Shipments are occasionally denied due to national competent authorities not being recognised by other countries.

Most reports of denial of shipment relate to non-fissile materials, either Type B packages (mainly cobalt-60) or tantalum-niobium concentrates. For uranium concentrates the main problem is the limited number of ports which handle them, and the relatively few marine carriers which accept them. For all radioactive materials, consignors are required to provide some training of personnel handling the packages, creating significant cost and inconvenience to shippers.


Any goods that pose a risk to people, property and the environment are classified as dangerous goods, which range from paints, solvents and pesticides up to explosives, flammables, and fuming acids, and are assigned to different classes under the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, Model Regulations:

  • Class 1: Explosives.
  • Class 2: Gases.
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids.
  • Class 4: Flammable solids; substances liable to spontaneous combustion; substances which, on contact with water, emit flammable gases.
  • Class 5: Oxidizing substances and organic peroxides.
  • Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances.
  • Class 7: Radioactive material.
  • Class 8: Corrosive substances.
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles, including environmentally hazardous substances.

When transported these goods need to be packaged correctly, as laid out in the various international and national regulations for each mode of transport, to ensure that they are carried safely to minimise the risk of an incident.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines, for transport purposes only, radioactive materials as those with specific activity greater than 74 Bq per gram. This definition does not specify a quantity, only a concentration. As an example, pure cobalt-60 has a specific activity of 37 TBq per gram, which is about 500 billion times greater than the definition. However, uranium-238 has a specific activity of only 11 kBq per gram, which is only 150 times greater than the definition.


BNFL, Cogema, JNFL, SKB and ANSTO publications and papers

World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) website

WNTI Maritime Transport Workshop (October 2013)

WNTI Package Types used for Transporting Radioactive Materials fact sheet (2013)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Technical Training Center, Transportation of Radioactive Material

Euratom Supply Agency, Report on Nuclear Fuel Security of Supply (June 2015)

National Research Council of the National Academies, Going the Distance? – The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States (2006)

Kevin J. Connolly, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Ronald B. Pope, Argonne National Laboratory, A Historical Review of the Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel (August 2016)

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