Transport | WNTI
Compiling standards1 January 2013
While the safety record for the transport of radioactive materials is exemplary, and has been so for over 50 years, it is very important that this is not taken for granted. For that purpose, industry practices are exchanged and, from those, good practices developed. By Michel Hartenstein and Henry-Jacques Neau
The World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) was created to represent the interests of all parties connected to packaging and transport of radioactive materials. From the start, the institute has recognised the value of sharing the experience gained, by its members and others. This has resulted in the creation of working groups in many fields of transport, producing information papers, and more significantly good practice documents. Most of these documents are intended to become de facto standards, as they are industry-generated based on operational feedback.
Such WNTI documents are available freely from www.wnti.co.uk. Making available our good practices is not a loss of our members’ valuable know-how. It is an investment in safety, security and sustainability of our activity, not to mention that of the industry that we serve.
There is, admittedly, another motive. While most regulations for safety and security are established by international consensus, there are in some instances variations, local additions and conflicting interpretations. Industry-prepared standards and good practices are a way to reach a unified understanding and implementation of regulations.
Topics that are intented to be covered by a good practice document within WNTI are listed below.
WNTI is on the verge of publishing its summary of the commitments that any organisation involved in radioactive material transport should make. It is essentially common sense, and can be used as a broad check list to ensure that such organisations do not overlook any major field needing control.
There is often a choice between the modes of transport used, the routes possible, and the conveyances employed (such as ships). A risk analysis enables the formal identification of any risk areas, the comparison of solutions, and the mitigation of the risks identified. The criteria for risk analysis can be broken down into four main categories: safety, security, supply chain, communication.
One recommended methodology is to rate each risk factor to obtain a global grade, allowing comparisons between logistical solutions. The rating and the weight for each factor and category is company- and/or country-specific, because of, for instance, different policies and perceptions, local conditions such as accident statistics.
This kind of control of risks is seen favourably by the insurers approached, and will facilitate the negotiation of premiums.
There is a need for an industry guide that would summarize in a user-friendly format the basics of emergency preparedness and of crisis management for companies. Similarly, a guide for crisis exercises would be useful. It could for instance advise that table-top exercises are no substitute for field drills where equipment may or may not work as intended, where people may prove unavailable.
Check lists before departure
There are a number of items to be inspected before departure, most of them critical for the implementation of regulations. Standard check lists could include documentation completeness, packaging maintenance status, vehicle and driver issues, tie-down and radiological measurements.
There are some unfortunate instances of radiological inspections where the values recorded by the shipper differ from those measured on arrival or en-route. There may many reasons for this, including different measurement points and seepage. At the very least, procedures, equipment and personnel qualification could be standardised or their equivalences validated, so that these root causes could be discounted. Whenever possible, measuring sessions could be organised between consignors and consignees with a view to comparison and calibration.
Packaging for uranium concentrates
Industrial steel drums are usually transported in 20-foot ISO containers, making them basically round pegs in a square hole. This opens the door to two sorts of standardisation: methods of tie-down of the drums in the container; and search for a better packaging. The first aspect is now covered by two good practice documents freely available from WNTI. The second is under study by WNTI member companies.
Technical specifications for subcontractors
There is a need to properly evaluate subcontractors (carriers, stevedores, and so on) before placing orders. Evaluations should be based on adequate technical specifications. The current situation is that shippers and freight forwarders go to the same service providers with specifications that are not only complicated but also different. It would be a great improvement if common specifications were agreed upon, for example by mode of travel and service type.
Acceleration values used for the design of tie-downs should be defined with common sense, meaning that tie-down systems are not expected to be more resistant than the package or the conveyance, as regrettably advised by some guidance documents.
Uranium hexafluoride cylinders
There are many different uranium hexafluoride (UF6) product safety sheets. One format in a few languages should suffice for all shippers, facilitating the work of first responders the world over.
Despite the popularity of tracking packages and/or vehicles, there are many different technical solutions, and inter-operability is but a dream at this point in time. A promising development is the recent issuance of a ‘best practice’ document common to WNTI and WINS (World Institute for Nuclear Security).
The dissemination of industry good practice ensures that responsible players take the necessary measures to reduce the risk of any incidents. All players in the transport community will benefit from this effort. They are welcome to participate in establishing and spreading these good practices, and to suggest new topics.
This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International