Transportation Campaign of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF)

The NRC is currently reviewing two separate applications for commercial consolidated interim storage facilities in west Texas and southeast New Mexico. Regulatory decisions on the applications are expected in late FY 2021.  Anticipated operation of these facilities will require the commercial transportation of SNF currently in storage at existing sites. This will be a larger scale than past commercial shipments in the United States. These extensive shipping campaigns will would occur over multiple years, with the possibly of multiple shipment occurring in close order sequence or overlapping and extending from the Northeast corner of the US to the Southwest, possibly beginning as early as 2023. Most of the shipments are expected to be by rail; other modes may be used if the originating sites do not have suitable rail access.

The results of the transportation regulatory readiness project will guide the NRC so it can continue to perform its regulatory role in the safe and secure transportation of SNF in coordination with other Federal partners. DOT has the safety and security responsibility for the conveyance. NRC’s principle responsibilities are for oversight of the preparation and receipt of shipments at licensee sites, certification of transportation packages, and proposed SNF route review and approval and security inspections before and if required during transportation.

The NRC staff is conducting assessment of Transportation Readiness Campaign of Spent Nuclear Fuel, and the assessment status is briefly summarized as follows:

  • Assess the existing regulations, guidance, and internal and external communication procedures.
  • Assess the specific information needs for NRC actions and the availability of information on current and projected SNF inventory and current site status.
  • Assess the NRC readiness to fulfill its oversight role for a major SNF transportation campaign to new storage sites.
  • Compile report of the assessment results and prepare an implementation Roadmap consistent with the staff conclusions and recommendations.

Assessments

  • The NRC staff working group (WG) performed assessments and did not identify any concerns regarding the adequacy of the existing regulations or regulatory framework for transportation.
  • The WG identified action items, enhancements, and other potential improvements to augment the existing guidance and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency’s regulatory oversight of SNF transport.
  • The action items, enhancements, and other improvements identified by the WG are related to three areas of interest with no assignment of priorities: external communication and outreach planning, security oversight, and safety and security inspections.
  • Roles and responsibilities of the NRC and other key Federal Government agencies and departments in the oversight of SNF transport.

Recommendations on Communication and Outreach Planning

The NRC identified a need to prepare enhanced external and internal communication plans to include:

  • Alignment with Federal partners, states, and other stakeholders on the roles and responsibilities for the regulatory oversight and the safety and security of SNF transportation (e.g. Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and impacted states and Indian Tribes).
  • Alignment on preparations before the expected shipments of SNF.
  • Alignment on emergency preparedness.
  • Alignment on information sharing: NRC’s specific information needs as well as information the NRC can share with external stakeholders.
  • Establishing contacts and alignment on external coordination activities and communication approaches and tools.
  • An internal communication plan for improved internal communication and coordination between NMSS and the other NRC offices and support external communication and outreach.

Recommendations on Security Oversight

  • The NRC will conduct further evaluation of packages with older SNF content that do not meet the performance objectives for physical protection for shipments of SNF fuel in 10 CFR 73.37(a).
  • Review and consider possible revision to align the NRC transportation security policy with the national policies that have changed over the years.

Recommendations on Safety and Security Inspections

  • Develop new or enhance the safety and security inspection procedures.
  • Establish a routine frequency of safety and security inspections.
  • Enhance the qualification and training requirements for Inspectors.
  • Develop new or enhance the IMCs for the safety and security inspection programs.

Purpose

  • Explain the NRC’s readiness to fulfill its regulatory role for commercial spent fuel transportation
  • Distinguish the NRC’s roles and responsibilities with other Federal and governmental organizations in commercial spent fuel transportation
  • Explain the results of the NRC transportation readiness assessment, including the recommended enhancements to the NRC framework and how they will be implemented
  • Maintain and expand communication channels with external partners and stakeholders

Key Messages to Audience

  • Staff has completed an assessment of NRC’s readiness for potential large-scale commercial transportation of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) across the country if the proposed consolidated interim storage facilities are approved, constructed, and begin operation.
  • Staff is preparing/has prepared a public report on the assessment along with a public roadmap for implementation of the recommendations and the program.
  • As an independent agency, the NRC will apply its regulatory and licensing authority to accomplish its mission; namely to ensure adequate protection of the public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.
  • The NRC works with its Federal, state, local, and Tribal partners to provide an integrated regulatory, oversight, and response framework for shipment of radioactive materials, including SNF
  • The safety record for SNF transportation in the U.S. and abroad has been excellent with no radioactive release reported to date.
  • NRC regulatory program includes review and certification of transportation package designs and on-site inspection of package (cask) designers, fabricators, and users to ensure compliance with the NRC-approved Quality Assurance Program and the NRC and DOT transportation regulations.
  • NRC performs safety and quality assurance inspections of transportation cask systems, coordinates and develops guidance on transportation policy and safety issues with other U.S. government and international agencies, and provides technical support for transportation incident and emergency response.
  • NRC has performed multiple technical studies including a study that subjected full scale casks to tests under accident conditions, i.e., the impact (free drop and puncture), fire, and water-immersion tests are considered in sequence to determine their cumulative effects on a given package.
  • Consistent with the principle of transparency and in response to a high level of public interest in the area of spent nuclear fuel transportation, the NRC is expanding its outreach on spent nuclear fuel transportation.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, March 12, 2021