The transportation of radioactive waste in Spain
In depth - January 26, 2024

The transportation of radioactive waste in Spain

Excluding X-ray facilities, in Spain there are around 1,300 authorized radioactive sites, which generate approximately 30 m3 of radioactive waste and around 300 radioactive sources each year.

The transportation of radioactive waste along national and international routes, which is essential for managing nuclear material, is regulated by strict safety protocols. Global experience demonstrates the efficacy of these protocols. Radioactive waste and sources have travelled nearly 40 million kilometres without incidents.

Stages of transportation

Transportation activities are divided into three differentiated stages:

  • Risk analysis
  • Preparation and scheduling of transportation
  • Transportation itself

Transportation safety

The basic concept is that safety depends primarily on the containers, which must provide a barrier to protect workers, the public and the environment against the effects of radiation.

Safety throughout transportation is ensured, among other aspects, with shielded containers, safety systems and specialized drivers. Transports originating at nuclear power plants use articulated vehicles weighing a maximum of 40 tons. These vehicles are equipped with specific safety elements and geolocated throughout their journey.

When the point of origin is a radioactive facility, smaller vehicles are used to allow accessibility in loading areas.

Safety throughout transportation is ensured, among other aspects, with shielded containers, safety systems and specialized drivers

In transportation, safety is based on the concept of "package" units, which combine the radioactive material and its container.

There are a series of rigorous tests conducted:

  • Caída libre desde 9 metros de altura
  • Free fall from a 9-meter height
  • Free fall from a 1-meter height onto a steel punch bar
  • Resistance to fire at 800 ºC during 30 minutes
  • Immersion tests at different depths

Additionally, these containers undergo tests simulating extreme situations, such as the impact of a locomotive at speeds exceeding 130 km/h.

Adicionalmente, estos contenedores superan ensayos simulando situaciones extremas, como el impacto de una locomotora a velocidades superiores a 130 km/h.

The transportation of radioactive waste in Spain
Tests conducted for transportation of radioactive waste.

Rigorous tests are conducted for transportation, including simulations of extreme situations

The vehicles used are specially designed with automatic locking systems and additional shielding. At the control center, each shipment is supervised, the established routes are tracked and unforeseen situations are identified.

This video from the International Atomic Energy Agency describes some of the tests conducted on radioactive waste packages.

Transportation of radioactive waste in Spain

In Spain and the rest of Europe, the transportation of radioactive waste follows the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR).

The Spanish National Radioactive Waste Company (Enresa), with over 40 years of experience, is responsible for collecting, inspecting and transporting very low-, low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

This isn't the case for Spain, because, for now, radioactive waste is stored in specific sites within the area of the power plants. However, whenever it is necessary to transport high-level radioactive waste this is done by rail or road, always strictly following the Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the guidelines of the European Commission. Low- and intermediate-level waste can also be transported by air, sea and fluvial routes.

Low,- low,- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, as well as high-level radioactive waste, are transported according to the same standards and criteria.

Contingency and Response Plan

In Spain, Enresa coordinates with the Directorate General of Civil Protection and has a Contingency Plan that classifies potential accidents. An intervention team is always ready 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to refurbish damaged materials and perform cleaning and decontamination tasks in case of accidents.

The transportation of radioactive waste around the world

At a global level, the protocols and regulations for the transportation of radioactive waste are very similar to those in Spain and are based on recommendations from the IAEA. This from the United Nations facilitates the proper implementation of these regulations through training programs and consulting services for its Member States. This ensures safety in the global transportation of radiopharmaceuticals for hospitals, sealed radioactive sources for various industrial applications or spent fuel containers from nuclear power plants.

At a global level, the protocols and regulations for the transportation of radioactive waste are very similar to those in Spain and are based on IAEA recommendations

Sources: Foro Nuclear, Enresa, IAEA

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