United States House of Representatives

Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
2165 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-9446

Testimony of Ellen G. Engleman
on behalf of the Research and Special Programs Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation

April 25, 2002

Good morning, Chairman Petri, Chairman Quinn, and members of the committee. I am Ellen Engleman, Administrator of the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Thank you for inviting me to discuss DOT's role in ensuring the safe transportation of hazardous materials, including spent nuclear fuel.

Spent nuclear fuel has been transported safely in the United States for many years. It is noteworthy that there have been many hundreds of domestic shipments of spent nuclear fuel with no deaths, no injuries, and no releases of the hazardous material. Right now, approximately 15 shipments of spent nuclear fuel are being made annually by utilities, academic institutions, and other facilities that are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). There also are shipments by the military and other shippers not regulated by NRC. All future shipments of spent fuel, just as the ones being made today, will be subject to mandatory transportation requirements and operational procedures to minimize the risks involved in that transportation.


Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) has primary responsibility to plan for and arrange the transportation of spent nuclear fuel to a geological repository. NRC licenses storage facilities and also approves the packages and requires transportation in accordance with a physical protection plan. Within DOT, RSPA issues hazardous materials regulations, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issues rail safety regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues motor carrier safety regulations, and the United States Coast Guard issues marine transportation safety regulations - all of which apply to the transportation of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive materials. RSPA, DOE, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have provided grants, courses, and course materials for emergency responder training related to this transportation.


I want to provide a brief overview of the regulatory requirements that would apply to spent fuel shipments to Yucca Mountain. Because of NRC's jurisdiction over these and other facets of nuclear waste and other radioactive materials transportation, and DOT's jurisdiction over hazardous materials transportation, the two agencies have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the regulation of the transport of all radioactive materials. Under the MOU, NRC has the lead responsibility for the review and certification of the packages that are and will be used for spent nuclear fuel transportation. The MOU has been an effective vehicle for a sound regulatory program drawing upon the expertise of both agencies.

Nuclear fuel must be packaged for transportation in cask containers approved by NRC. These specialized casks both reduce the effects of radiation during routine transportation and in a transport accident. NRC's certification process requires demonstration through tests and analyses that casks can survive hypothetical accident scenarios. The on-going radiation exposure protection provided by the casks is equally important for transportation workers who load and unload a shipment of spent nuclear fuel from its conveyance or remain near it during its movement in transportation. Because the time that it takes to move a shipment from origin to destination directly affects radiation exposure, DOT requires that shipments of spent nuclear fuel be planned to avoid intermediate stops to the extent practicable.

Within DOT, several agencies are involved in regulating the transportation of spent nuclear fuel. RSPA's regulations, issued under the Federal hazardous material transportation law, impose packaging, hazard communication, training, operational, and other requirements; they specifically prohibit unnecessary delay in the transportation of hazardous materials. FRA's regulations, issued under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, impose requirements to ensure the safe rail transportation of hazardous materials. FMCSA's regulations, issued under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, impose requirements to ensure the safe highway transportation of hazardous materials; they require the use of routes that minimize time in transit when spent nuclear fuel is transported by motor vehicle. FMCSA's routing regulations permit States, following Federal regulatory guidelines, to designate certain routes for transporting hazardous material. Preferred routes are Interstate highways and alternate routes designated by a State routing agency. An Interstate bypass or beltway around a city, when available, must be used rather than an Interstate route through a city. Many States have designated highway routes for radioactive and other hazardous materials (or restricted the use of other routes), in accordance with FMCSA's regulations. Under these DOT regulations, a State or locality may not designate (or restrict the use of) routes that "export" transportation risks to a neighboring jurisdiction or unnecessarily delay the transportation of hazardous materials. To protect barges engaged in spent fuel transportation, the Coast Guard can impose moving security zones around barges under the Magnuson Act and 33 C.F.R. Part 6, and can impose moving safety zones around barges under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA); under the PWSA, Coast Guard captains of the port can take other protective actions.

Rail shipments of spent nuclear fuel adhere to recommendations of the Association of American Railroads for the use of special or dedicated trains over key routes. These special trains carry no other cargo and have priority use of the mainline. Key routes are higher volume lines that have safety detection devices (such as wheel bearing detectors) and receive the most frequent inspections and best maintenance.

The NRC's requirements for physical protection of a shipment of spent nuclear fuel, including armed escorts who must be in close contact with a communications center about the status of the shipment, protect against intentional or unintentional disruption of the transportation and reduce the risks of an accident or incident. The same is true of other operational requirements, including State and local provisions that address traffic control and local safety hazards, as well as regulations of RSPA and its sister agencies within DOT - FRA for rail carriers, FMCSA for motor carriers, and the Coast Guard for water carriers. All transportation workers must have training in the requirements that apply to the functions they perform and how to avoid accidents and protect themselves from the hazards of materials being transported. Escorts for shipments of spent nuclear fuel must be trained in security measures, communications, responding to contingencies and threats, the hazards of radiation, and the Federal, State and local requirements that apply to the transportation of radioactive materials.

Many Federal and State agencies enforce these regulatory requirements through inspections. For example, FMCSA has worked with DOE and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) to develop the CVSA Level VI Enhanced Radioactive Inspection Protocols. Under these protocols, every vehicle transporting spent nuclear fuel is required (by DOE contract) to be inspected at its point of origin. This inspection includes radiation scans, as well as driver and vehicle compliance checks. Any defect discovered during the inspection, regardless of how minor, must be corrected before transportation begins.


In addition to imposing regulatory requirements intended to prevent incidents and releases, DOT and its partners are concerned about emergency response in the event an incident should occur. Effective response to a transportation accident or incident involving spent nuclear fuel is enhanced through Federal requirements and resources, including financial assistance to States and localities for emergency response planning and training. DOE maintains regional emergency management field offices that can dispatch qualified response teams to an incident involving nuclear material, although the first responders on the scene of an accident usually are local fire departments and law enforcement agencies. RSPA's hazard communication requirements (placarding, shipping papers, and package marking and labeling) inform these responders of the hazards involved. For shipments of spent nuclear fuel, coordination with local responders is also enhanced by the NRC's physical protection requirements that provide for advance notification to the State governor of each shipment to or through the State and advance arrangements with local law enforcement agencies for response to an emergency or a call by escorts for assistance. Local emergency response capabilities are strengthened by RSPA's planning and training grants to States, who in turn pass at least 75% of the grants through to local communities. Significantly, both DOE and FEMA have actively conducted and promoted emergency responder training that enhances the ability of State and local fire, police and other emergency personnel to respond to and mitigate hazardous materials spills and other incidents.


DOT provides a regulatory structure for the safe transportation of spent nuclear fuel, other radioactive materials, and all other hazardous materials. Our enforcement of those regulatory requirements would be greatly assisted by passage of legislation to reauthorize the hazardous materials transportation safety program; the Administration's proposal was introduced last year as H.R. 3276 and S. 1669. In partnership with other Federal agencies, States, local and tribal governments, and carriers and shippers of hazardous materials, we will continue to ensure the safe transportation of all hazardous materials into, through, and within the United States.

If the committee has questions, I will be happy to respond.