On the move: GRS evaluates incidents during the transport of radioactive materials


© IAEA/ Dean Calma

According to the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE), more than 500,000 packages of radioactive materials pass through Germany's traffic routes every year. Most of them have low activity and come from the scientific, industrial or medical fields. The transport of nuclear fuels accounts for a relatively small proportion, less than one per thousand.

 Since radioactive substances are classified as dangerous goods ("Class 7 dangerous goods"), special regulations apply to their transport. One of the most important regulations is the "concept of the safe package". This means that safety must be ensured by the characteristics of the package (packaging and contents) - as far as possible independent of the respective mode of transport. Almost every transport − whether medication or fuel assembly − must be reported to or approved by the competent authority in advance.

GRS evaluates incidents during the transport of radioactive materials

In a recent study, GRS evaluated violations related to regulations for the transport of radioactive materials in the years 1995 to 2016. Among other things, information on reportable events of the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities as well as the annual parliamentary report of the Federal Ministry for the Environment formed the data basis. A total of 911 incidents were identified in the above mentioned period. The evaluation showed that these were mainly violations of technical-administrative regulations, such as missing or incorrect transport documents or incorrect marking of packages. Damage to packages due to improper operating procedures or handling (e.g. stowage, loading) is also one of the most frequent causes. Traffic accidents with personal injury or property damage, on the other hand, account for only a relatively small share of 2.3 percent (21 accidents).

Ship transport: errors in declaration of consumer goods

Deviations from maritime transport regulations were analysed separately. A recurring error was the incorrect declaration of low-level radioactive consumer goods in their countries of origin. In the area of Class 7 goods, for example, 149 such cases were registered between 2014 and 2016. These goods were mostly low-level radioactive metal -halide lamps and ionisation smoke detectors produced in China and India.

GRS experts come to the conclusion that the low accident rate is an indicator of a high level of safety for the transport of radioactive materials. There is potential for improvement with regard to administrative errors or a lack of care. One solution for this could be training or further education of transport personnel, which can promote awareness of the problem and improve the safety culture.

Work of GRS on the transport of radioactive materials

GRS assesses and conducts research in the fields of safety and security in the transport of radioactive materials. GRS radiation protection experts examine scenarios (e.g. accident-free transport, accident scenarios) for various modes of transport (e.g. rail, road, air, water) and the associated possible contamination or radiation exposure for the population and the environment.

GRS provides technical and scientific support to the Federal Ministry for the Environment in evaluating the regulations for the safety and security of transports of nuclear fuels and other radioactive materials. In a recently completed study on the review of the accidental release behaviour during the transport of radioactive substances, GRS examined, for example, to what extent the assumptions applied in Germany in analyses of transport safety for the release of radionuclides from waste packages during an accident correspond to the international state of the art in science and technology. In this course, the experts examined, evaluated and revised the data bases, assumptions and input parameters for simulation calculations and models.

Find out more

GRS Report 482: Review of the accidental release behaviour during the transport of radioactive substances (german)

GRS Report 481: Data collection and evaluation of incidents during the transport of radioactive substances (german)

GRS Report 479: Preparation of statistics on traffic volume and accidents (german)

GRS Report 477: Further development of approaches to calculate the basic activity limits of transport regulations (german)