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Program on Technology Innovation: Summary of the National Academy of Sciences Report: "Going the Distance?"

Electric Power Research Institute
Publication Date


In May 2003, The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) formed a Committee on Transportation of Radioactive Waste (NAS Committee) to examine the transportation of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the United States. The focus of this study was on the transportation of SNF in the United States. The NAS Committee obtained information needed for this study from a variety of sources, including technical studies on transportation risks, package performance, waste inventories, transport procedures, and transport corridors; social science studies that analyze societal concerns for transporting radioactive waste; written records of public hearings to obtain public input on transportation plans and programs; and briefings by subject matter experts, federal, state, and local government representatives, non-governmental organization representatives, and interested members of the public. The results of the culminated in a report that was issued in February 2006 entitled, "Going the Distance? The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States."
EPRI was one of the principal sponsors of the study along with the DOE, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. EPRI's interest in supporting the NAS study was guided by the fact that industry believes that the current combination of regulations and industry practice leads to a high degree of transportation safety; however, there is always room to improve upon current practice. In addition, industry has been concerned about the perception "gap" related to transportation risks and hoped that the NAS Committee would be able to address this issue. EPRI asked the NAS Committee to understand current regulatory and industry practices, specifically gaining an appreciation for the current regulatory requirements for hypothetical accident conditions; to put transportation risks into perspective by reviewing risk studies that have been completed; and to make recommendations regarding how to explain transportation risks in common language.

This EPRI report summarizes the principal findings and recommendations made by the NAS committee in its "Going the Distance?" report. This EPRI report concludes with some observations by EPRI on the NAS findings and recommendations. EPRI commends the NAS Committee for undertaking the task of considering both the technical and social implications of SNF transportation in the U.S. The Committee's report provides a generally thorough and informative discussion of the issues involved. EPRI agrees with one of the Committee’s primary findings that existing industry practice and NRC and DOT regulations provide a high level of assurance that the exemplary safety record of SNF transportation in the U.S. can continue into the future. It should also be recognized, however, that a number of the Committee's recommendations are not radiologically risk-based. For example, the recommendation that NRC should undertake additional analyses of very-long-duration fire scenarios because these scenarios might produce thermal loading conditions that could compromise the package containment does not appear to consider the true radiological risk associated with such low probability accidents — but is instead focusing on the possible consequence of such accidents. In addition, the recommendation that DOE negotiate with nuclear operators to ship older fuel first does not consider the additional at-reactor risks associated with this recommendation; it only considers risks to transport workers.