Transporting radioactive materials incorrectly can have catastrophic consequences. How can we ensure that safety measures are followed?

There are two main radioactive materials — NORM and TENORM. But what are these, and what methods can we put in place to transport these safely.

NORM stands for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, while TENORM is Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material. These are usually industrial wastes or by-products which are enriched with radioactive elements that can be found in the environment. This includes the likes of uranium, thorium and potassium as well as any of their decay products, including radium and radon.

In order for the transportation of these products to be carried out safely and correctly, a notable amount of time and resources is needed to be set aside. A lack of either can prove costly in the process of decommissioning and transporting NORM or TENORM, in terms of both finances and time.

As well as this, there are still many common misconceptions when it comes to moving — or disposing of — radioactive waste, including those which are NORM or TENORM. For instance, some members of the public are under the impression that the transportation of radioactive waste poses an unacceptable risk to the world’s population as well as the environment. According to the World Nuclear Association, radioactive waste actually only accounts for five per cent of all hazardous waste that is produced by most major industrial processes. While this is the case, there have been over 25,000 shipments of this waste which has covered many millions of miles and there hasn’t been an instance as of yet to indicate that any radioactive release has caused harm to the public, property, or environment on these routes.

However, although this is the case, we can’t be complacent. There are many elements of safety that must be factored in before the transportation of radioactive materials. In order to plan the process of decommissioning and transporting these materials, consulting with experts at the beginning of the process is essential. Doing so will ensure a smooth procedure and could potentially lead to big cost savings.

Large contaminated structures

As for large structures, one of the main issues that’s need to be discussed is the parts that are inaccessible and cannot be monitored. Such a structure cannot be declared as uncontaminated with no means of proving it, so it is better to assume that contamination is present. A base line survey before decommissioning is not able to prove that NORM is not present in this situation. Therefore, ongoing surveyance throughout the decommissioning process will be needed to ensure contaminated items aren’t transported incorrectly. It is important that all parties involved receive advice and guidance on transporting potentially NORM contaminated structures.

Many large structures will have vessels containing LSA (Low Specific Activity). However, bulk NORM such as sludge and sand will predominantly be classified as LSA-1. There are some exceptions to this, however.

At the same time, it is possible for a structure to also contain SCO (Surface Contaminated Objects). Like the LSA vessels, these NORM contaminated SCOs will be classed as SCO-I more often than not, but there are some exceptions to this.

On large structures, the process of marking and labelling can be difficult, however it is something the whole process requires. In addition to this, the following documents are also required:

  • Emergency plans
  • Instructions in writing — ADR requirement. 5.4.3 — standard set of instructions
  • A dangerous goods form
  • DGSA contact details for the drivers
  • The container packing certificate, if being transported by sea, ADR 5.4.2

There is a vital need for trained personnel, Intrinsically Safe Dose Rate Monitors, and Contamination Monitors, to be present.

It is good practice that you speak to the DGSA (Dangerous Goods Safety Advisor), to help ensure that you understand what the provisions in transport regulations regarding shipping large items involves. Consulting with Radiation Waste Advisers and Radiation Protection Advisers will also be required when transporting NORM.

Specific activity needs to be analysed before transporting NORM. This can be done at a radiochemistry facility, and a fast turnaround service will help to avoid transportation delays.

Training, detection, measurement, transportation, and analysis of NORM and TENORM is vital for the process of transportation and decommission. Speak to an experienced and certified Radiation Protection Adviser to help maintain a smooth procedure.

This article was brought to you by Tracerco, who operate in the waterflood and subsea technologies sectors.

jamie roberts tyne & wear
Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts is a copywriter from Tyne & Wear. He graduated from the University of Sunderland with a BA in Journalism in 2008, and specialises in sports, lifestyle, and engineering content.