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.

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:

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.

Packaging of low-level radioactive waste

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Last updated September1997