Analysis of Severe Railway Accidents Involving Long Duration Fires (NUREG/CR-7034)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: November 2010
Date Published: February 2011

Prepared by:
G. Adams, T. Mintz, M. Necsoiu, J. Mancillas

Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses
6220 Culebra Road
San Antonio, TX 78228

C. Bajwa, NRC Project Manager

NRC Job Code J5639

Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington DC 20555-0001

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As a regulatory authority for transportation of radioactive materials, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ensures that packages designed to transport spent nuclear fuel (SNF) meet current regulations. 10 CFR Part 71 provides the regulatory requirements for the certification of transportation packages for SNF and high-level radioactive waste. SNF transportation packages are expected to be designed to endure a fully engulfing fire, as prescribed in 10 CFR Part 71, Section 73. The purpose of the study described in this report was to support NRC in determining the different types and frequency of railway accidents involving severe, long duration fires that could impact rail transport of SNF. Train accident data were examined from both the Federal Railroad Administration and Department of Transportation—Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration databases. This study focused on accidents where hazardous material was released from multiple train cars. From this study, the frequency of occurrence of a severe fire was estimated at 6.2 × 10−4 accidents per million freight train-km [1 × 10−3 accidents per million freight train-mi]. None of the accidents examined involved a reported release of radioactive material exceeding the limits set in 10 CFR Part 71. In addition to calculating the frequency, the trends associated with severe fire accidents were determined. In general, severe fires are characterized by derailments in which thousands of gallons of flammable liquid or gas are released. By limiting the SNF package transport to trains that are not also carrying flammable liquid or gas (i.e., to dedicated trains), the likelihood of an SNF transportation package being exposed to a long duration fire would likely be further reduced.

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