For over a century, radioactive materials are used on a daily basis and contribute to the improvement of the quality of our lives. Nowadays, the availability of popular products depends on the credible transport of radioactive materials, from their producer to the end user.
In the field of health, radioactive materials are used for diagnosis purposes and for the treatment of diseases, such as cancer, heart conditions and other body malfunctions. 80% of surgical gloves and almost 50% of medical consumables are sterilized by the use of radioactive materials.
In the field of industry, radioactive materials are used for non-destructive controls, supporting the construction and the safety control of vehicles, aircraft, bridges and buildings. Moreover, they are used for the production of plastics, detergents and semiconductors.
Small quantities of radioactive materials are identified in residences and working places, smoke detectors and energy-saving light bulbs. Some food, packages and natural ingredients used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products are sterilized by the use of radioactive materials.
In the environment, radioactive materials are used for monitoring insects that are responsible for the transmission of diseases. Furthermore, they contribute to the removal of pests from food and other materials.
Every day, thousands of packages of radioactive materials are transported all over the world. In the European Union, the shipments of radioactive materials correspond to the 1% of total dangerous goods transported on a daily basis. The tremendous majority of such shipments refer to materials of low radioactivity concentration. Shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel are also performed.
Safety during the transport of radioactive materials is a top priority. The joint efforts made by producers, logistics agents, end users and competent regulatory-monitoring authorities lead to an exemplary history of safety for more than 50 years. The room for improvement is always reviewed.
The packages for the transport of radioactive materials are designed and approved in compliance with international specifications/requirements, which correspond to the radioactive material allowed to be packaged therein, so as to ensure the protection of the public, the employees and the environment.
All such packages are checked as to their strength under usual transport conditions. In addition, the packages to be used for the transport of highly radioactive materials are designed and checked as to their tolerance in serious accidents, for example impact control in case of targeted drop, drop from up to 9m height – the content, the sealing and the fire-proof have to remain intact after multiple drops.
The common risks entailed in the transport of goods, such as the drop of packages from clarks, are usual incidents met during the transport of radioactive materials. However, accidents may occur too. Given their design, it is extremely rare to put at stake the integrity of a package of highly radioactive materials.
In case of an accident, the procedures for emergency situations, even for prevention purposes are implemented. Such procedures are documented and both the competent authorities and the parties involved have specialized and well-trained personnel.
Terms/requirements governing the transport of radioactive materials
The terms/requirements governing the transport of radioactive materials are specified by the related regulations at international, European and national level. In 1961, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued for the first time regulations on the safe transport of radioactive materials. Since then, they have been updated on a regular basis and they form for "Class 7: radioactive materials", the base for the international regulations on the transfer of dangerous goods issued by other United Nations Organizations (International Maritime Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization, Economic Commission for Europe). Indicatively, they refer to:
• maritime transport (IMDG Code)
• air transport (Technical Instructions)
• road transport (ADR)
• rail transport (RID)
• internal floating transports (ADN).
The European Union has issued directives on the internal transport of hazardous goods (road, rail transports, etc) and on the shipments of radioactive waste and nuclear fuel. The directive on internal transports of dangerous goods sets into force the ADR, RID and ADN European agreements.
In Greece, transports of radioactive materials are governed by the Radiation Protection Regulations, which agrees on and supplements, yet without replacing, the aforementioned international regulations and fall under the provisions of the international and community framework. Transports may be performed only upon prior approval by EEAE.
Taking into account that transfers of radioactive materials are cross-border transfers, it is easy to understand the need for the harmonization of regulations and procedures at international level, which – to a great extent – has been already achieved and is unfailingly optimized.
Furthermore, the team work advantages at a regional level – among others, source saving, know-how exchange, common procedures, if possible, transparency and mutual trust, as well as the common issues and the problems have led to the establishment and operation of networks for the transfer of radioactive materials.
The European Association of Competent Authorities for the transfer of radioactive materials is the first network formed and has been successfully operating for a long time. Since late 2013, the Mediterranean Network for the transfer of radioactive materials has been also operating. EEAE participates in the activities of both networks.