The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) today publishes a detailed analysis considering the wide range and large number of transports of nuclear materials around the UK and Europe, and from the UK to other countries. (1) The report highlights nuclear transports are continuing to increase and remain a concern from the perspective of an accident or malicious incident taking place with one of them.
Nuclear transport is of particular concern to the NFLA as radioactive materials are at their most vulnerable when they are being transported off site, as they are away from dedicated safe storage facilities and are in an ‘uncontrolled’ environment where they face a greater level of risk.
The report considers in detail the following transports:
- The safety of nuclear weapon road convoys – it considers recent reports by the Nuclear Information Service, ICAN UK and Nukewatch Scotland.
- The future transport by road of vehicles containing redundant submarine reactors from Rosyth and Devonport to Capenhurst by road.
- The report highlights the sheer number of road transports involving nuclear materials as well.
- The transport by rail of spent nuclear fuel from existing and decommissioned reactors, with particular focus on the rail transports of radioactive materials from Dounreay to Sellafield. It also highlights learning points from recent conventional rail transport accidents.
- The transport of radioactive materials by sea around the British Isles and globally to fulfil international contracts.
- The transport of highly enriched uranium materials stored at Dounreay by air to a site in South Carolina, United States. There is also reference to a historical list of accidents involving planes with nuclear weapons.
One of the surprising figures of the report is the sheer number of nuclear transports that take place. NFLA notes that, according to the World Nuclear Association, about 20 million consignments of radioactive material take place around the world each year. (2) The Office for Nuclear Regulation calculated around half a million packages containing radioactive materials are transported to, from or within the UK on an average year, though a recent 2017 survey (the most recent records the NFLA could find) suggests it is now around 150,000 transports. (3) These range from small levels of medical materials through to large amounts of spent fuel from civil nuclear reactors.
Following its analysis, NFLA recommends the following improvements to nuclear transport policy:
- The civil and defence nuclear authorities should minimise the movement of nuclear materials as much as possible, and they should abide to the proximity principle of storing waste at its point of origin. The ongoing trend upwards of nuclear transports is of real concern to many local authorities and civil society groups.
- The civil and defence nuclear authorities should also consult local communities on the movement of nuclear materials which can affect them. There has been a real lack of openness and transparency in this area of nuclear policy.
- Local authority emergency planning officers should be brought into the planning and knowledge of defence and sensitive civil nuclear material road, rail, sea and air transports, so as to ensure adequate local plans are in place in the event of an accident or a malicious incident.
- The International Maritime Organisation should consider improved regulation on shipping that is transporting nuclear materials as part of other mixed shipments. The level of accidents in this area is alarming, and the NFLA is really concerned a major accident could cause significant and dangerous implications for communities if the matter is not dealt with.
- The issue of climate change creating severe inclement weather conditions and potentially damaging rail, road and port infrastructure needs to be considered by the nuclear transport authorities. The 2020 Carmont rail crash in Scotland has raised significant issues for the rail industry, but other aspects of climate change could impact on nuclear transports in the future.
NFLA are sharing this report with the civil and defence nuclear authorities, as well as with local authority emergency planning officers, transport officers and civil society groups. NFLA are also looking forward to an upcoming KIMO International report which is looking in real detail about the safety of nuclear transportation by sea.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“This detailed NFLA report on nuclear transportation shows they are plentiful and widespread across the UK, around Europe and further afield. The report makes sensible and considered recommendations to encourage a reduction of such transports as much as is practical and possible. Our concern will always remain that when nuclear materials are transported there are always risks, however low, of an accident or a malicious incident taking place with them. The report shows in detail a number of accidents emphasising that risks do remain. NFLA calls on strong regulation of all transports and to take account of new risks, like the impact climate change and severe inclement weather can happen. I encourage councillors and council officers to read this report. I also urge nuclear regulators and transport providers to fully take account of it as well.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(2) World Nuclear Association, Transport of radioactive materials
(3) A L Jones & T Cabiana, Public Health England, Survey into the Radiological Impact of the Normal Transport of Radioactive Material in the UK by Road and Rail, March 2017