Federal Actions Are Needed To Improve Safety and Security of Nuclear Materials Transportation

EMD-79-18: Published: May 7, 1979. Publicly Released: May 7, 1979.


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Federal agencies responsible for the safe transportation of nuclear materials have not developed and enforced policies and regulations which adequately protect the public from exposure to radiation during shipments. The Department of Transportation (DOT), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Department of Energy (DOE) have responsibilities for the safe and secure transportation of nuclear materials. These agencies could strengthen their safety and security procedures.

Inspection procedures do not adequately assure that containers meet federal safety specifications. DOT and NRC allow levels of radioactive contamination of packages and transport vehicles which are unnecessarily high. Neither DOT nor NRC adequately inspects shippers and carriers for compliance with Federal transportation regulations. DOE and NRC require special security measures for shipments of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium when the amount being transported reaches a specified quantity called the strategic level. However, current federal regulations for protecting less than strategic quantities are inadequate. Neither DOT nor NRC has the authority to require states to develop emergency plans for transportation accidents involving nuclear materials. Over 20 percent of the states, however, have passed legislation or regulations governing the transportation of radioactive materials.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chairman of NRC and the Secretary of Energy should: (1) perform periodic, independent physical inspection and testing of nuclear materials packages on a random basis during fabrication and after repeated use; (2) jointly develop a graduated scale of security measures for the transportation of special nuclear materials, taking into account the dispersal hazard of plutonium; and (3) take immediate action to preclude consolidation of several nuclear materials shipments that together exceed the strategic levels. The Chairman, NRC, should also amend regulations to require receivers of radioactive materials to monitor Type A packages for radiation levels. The Chairman, NRC, and the Secretary of Transportation should reduce permissible contamination levels for packages and vehicles, expand their use of existing state resources to assure that carriers comply with federal regulations regarding radioactive materials transportation, and continue their efforts to develop consistent regulations for packaging low specific activity radioactive materials. The Secretary of Transportation should randomly inspect and test packages that are required to meet performance specifications, develop a program of coordination with state governments for regulating the transportation of radioactive materials, and expedite the efforts of DOT to develop a routing regulation for radioactive materials shipments.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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