Transporting Radioactive Materials in New Jersey:

Some Facts

FACT: Every day, radioactive materials are transported without incident along roadways across New Jersey.

To be useful in science and industry, radioactive materials must be shipped to where they are needed: to hospitals and medical centers, nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical firms and other industries, universities and research laboratories. These materials are transported, for the most part, by truck.
  • Small quantities of radioisotopes are shipped, sometimes twice a day, to New Jersey's many pharmaceutical firms just about every day of the year. An express mail carrier will pick up this material in a van or truck at Newark Airport, take the Turnpike to the appropriate exit, then follow state, county and local roads to its destination.
  • Radioactive materials are shipped to New Jersey colleges and universities for research. Some research laboratories require a half-dozen or so shipments a year, others a half-dozen a week.
  • New Jersey's four nuclear power plants receive 10-20 shipments of fuel rods in a given year. They will send and/or receive, mostly by truck, about 300 shipments of radioactive samples, laundry, slightly contaminated materials and waste in a typical year. Low-level radioactive waste accounts for about 100 of these shipments.
FACT: Almost two-thirds of all shipments of radioactive materials are transported to and from medical and research facilities.

Hospitals and medical centers as well as research laboratories are the destinations of almost two-thirds of all shipments of radioactive materials in New Jersey.

Low-level radioactive waste accounts for a small portion of the radioactive materials transported along New Jersey roadways. Other shipments of radioactive materials pass through the state, whose highways, particularly the New Jersey Turnpike and I-80, are major transportation arteries in the New York City/Philadelphia corridor.

The public perception of shipments of radioactive materials is that they are much more dangerous than other hazardous cargoes. They cause concern and fear because of additional perceived hazards associated with radiation - even though the safety record for transporting radioactive materials is excellent, and any risks to the public and the environment even from the few accidents that have occurred have been negligible.

FACT: The transportation of radioactive materials has an exemplary safety record.

Every shipment of radioactive material is carefully regulated to maximize safety to both the public and the environment. Any radiological risk during these routine shipments is exceedingly small - far less, for example, than risks from trucks transporting gasoline to service stations.

 Emergency planning, driver training, and strict inspections are all part of a program that has helped prevent any radiologically related deaths or injuries as a result of a transportation accident in the United States - not to an emergency responder, not to other rescue personnel, not to any member of the public.

For example, of over 8,600 reported incidents involving the transport of hazardous materials in one recent year, only 21 involved radioactive materials, and none involved low-level radioactive waste, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In a 20-year period (1971-1991) studied by the Department of Energy, there were 53 accidents out of over 200,000 shipments of low-level radioactive waste. Only four of these involved a spill of any radioactive material, which was quickly cleaned up and repackaged. There was never any measurable radiation exposure to people. Proper packaging ensures that, even in a severe accident, harmful amounts of radioactive material will not be released.

FACT: Low-level radioactive waste accounts for a very small portion of all radioactive materials that are transported.

Just as radioactive materials have to be transported to the places at which they are used, so must low-level radioactive waste be transported from these locations for safe disposal. Consider:

  • Every year, there are about 100 million shipments of hazardous materials in the United States, mostly on the highways (out of 500 billion shipments of all sorts).
  • Of these, 2 million shipments contain radioactive materials. These include radiography devices, radiopharmaceuticals, smoke detectors, luminous dials and indicators, and fuel rods for nuclear power plants.
  • Of these, there are 11,000 shipments of low-level radioactive waste, almost all of which are carried by truck.

In New Jersey, almost 500 institutions are licensed to use radioactive materials, which must be shipped to them. Much of the radioactivity in these materials decays naturally and quickly to safe, "background" levels. These materials, after use, are discarded with other trash. A relatively small amount, however, either decays more slowly or is more concentrated. This low-level radioactive waste requires special disposal. Most of this waste, in volume as well as curies, comes from nuclear power plants.

Although material from about 100 New Jersey sites a year is shipped out of state for processing and disposal (currently to Barnwell, South Carolina and Clive, Utah), this low-level radioactive waste accounts for a small amount of all radioactive materials transported in the state. Less than 425,000 curies of the more than 15,000,000 curies transported along New Jersey roadways from 1989-1993, for example, was low-level radioactive waste.


The strict packaging standards specified by U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations have reduced the possibility of any harm to people and the environment associated with the transportation of radioactive materials.

The packaging used is determined by the activity, type and form of the material to be shipped. Depending on these factors, radioactive material is shipped in one of three types of containers:

Strong, Tight Packages...
are used for materials that present little hazard from radiation exposure because of their low level of radioactivity. These containers will retain and protect the contents, such as contaminated clothing, laboratory samples, and smoke detectors, during routine transportation.
Type A Packages...
are used for materials with higher specific activity levels. Regulations require that these packages protect their contents under conditions normally encountered during transportation. Type A packages are typically used to transport radiopharmaceuticals and certain industrial products.
 Type B Packages...
are used for radioactive materials that exceed the limits for a Type A package. Shippers use this type of package for materials that would present a radiation hazard should there be a major accident. Type B packages must be able to withstand severe accident conditions without releasing their contents. Type B packages, which can range in size from small containers to containers weighing over 100 tons, are used to transport such materials as high-level radioactive waste, spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, and medical therapy sources.


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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402