What We Regulate
Spent nuclear fuel refers to uranium-bearing fuel elements that have been used at commercial nuclear reactors and that are no longer producing enough energy to sustain a nuclear reaction. Once the spent fuel is removed from the reactor the fission process has stopped, but the spent fuel assemblies still generate significant amounts of radiation and heat. Because of the residual hazard, spent fuel must be shipped in containers or casks that shield and contain the radioactivity and dissipate the heat.
Over the last 40 years, thousands of shipments of commercially generated spent nuclear fuel have been made throughout the United States without causing any radiological releases to the environment or harm to the public.
Most of these shipments occur between different reactors owned by the same utility to share storage space for spent fuel, or they may be shipped to a research facility to perform tests on the spent fuel itself. In the near future, because of a potential high-level waste repository being built, the number of these shipments by road and rail is expected to increase.
How We Regulate
The NRC regulates spent fuel transportation through a combination of safety and security requirements, certification of transportation casks, inspections, and a system of monitoring to ensure that requirements are being met. For general information, see the How We Regulate page. For details, see the following pages under Nuclear Materials Transportation:
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, April 27, 2021