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Transportation of High-Level Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel: Proposed Rail Inspection Program to Promote Reciprocity

Timothy Runyon
Patrick Edwards
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9397_Edwards_and_Runyon.pdf (80.54 KB) 80.54 KB

With the Department of Energy’s (DOE) recent submittal of a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the development of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a national nuclear waste repository moves one step closer to reality. An operating site at Yucca Mountain could receive between 38-106 rail shipments and 53-89 truck shipments annually over a period of 50 years. Significant Federal and State oversight will be necessary to ensure compliance with new and existing safety regulations, not only to enhance the safety of shipments but also to increase public confidence in the movement of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain. In addition, streamlining of inspection policies to ensure a safe and efficient process will best meet the needs of all stakeholders.

For more than a decade the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) has worked with DOE and the U.S. Department of Transportation on the development and implementation of inspection standards and out-of-service criteria for highway shipments of spent nuclear fuel. In addition to providing uniform inspection standards and training for inspection staff, CVSA also developed a system for communicating inspection results to other states along a transportation corridor, decreasing the number or level of detail for inspections at State borders and setting up the opportunity for inspection reciprocity. While the CVSA program has been successful for regulation of highway movements of spent fuel, there is currently no analogous inspection program or standard for rail safety. The absence of a uniform, reciprocal inspection program for rail is problematic because DOE has chosen “mostly rail” as its preferred mode for moving spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to the Yucca Mountain site.

Rail safety regulations are enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and State rail safety programs through the FRA’s State Participation Program. States now participate in six safety disciplines including track, motive power and equipment, signal, grade crossings, hazardous materials, and operating practices. State-level inspectors are trained and certified by the FRA and have the authority to enforce FRA regulations in their own jurisdictions.

To address the lack of a uniform, reciprocal inspection program for rail, members of DOE’s Transportation External Coordination Working Group’s (TEC/WG) Rail Topic Group have compiled existing regulations and developed inspection formats that are comparable to information the CVSA program uses for inspection of spent nuclear fuel shipments by highway. The intended result is the development of standard inspection formats and processes that allow for availability and acceptance of inspection results and create the opportunity for reciprocity along transportation corridors. This paper traces the origin of the new uniform safety inspection procedures, provides detail on the procedures themselves, and discusses the pros and cons of establishing the system nationwide for rail shipments of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste.