Certification process for transport packages

The basic philosophy that has guided the development of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulations on the packaging and transport of nuclear substances (or radioactive material) is that safety relies heavily on the design of the transport package. Package designs are combined with additional regulatory controls, including labelling, placarding, quality assurance and maintenance records, allowing nuclear substances to be carried safely in all modes of transport such as road, rail, air and sea transportation.

All nuclear substances are transported in packages that are selected based on the nature, form and quantity or activity of the nuclear substance. There are general design requirements that apply to all package types to ensure that they can be handled safely and easily, secured properly and are able to withstand routine conditions of transport.

Through the Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations (PTNS Regulations), the CNSC regulates all aspects of the packaging of radioactive material, including the design, production, use, inspection, maintenance and repair of packages. Similar to the IAEA regulations, the PTNS regulations require that certain types of packages be certified by the CNSC prior to being used in Canada.

Packages for transporting low-risk levels of radioactive material

Packages designed for the transport of low-risk levels of radioactive material do not require certification by the CNSC due to their low level of risk. These packages carry quantities that will have little or no impact on the health and safety of Canadians. The responsibility for meeting the regulations rests with the consignor, who must be able to provide written demonstration that the package meets the regulatory performance standards, as defined in the PTNS regulations, before they can be used in Canada.

Substances transported in these types of packages include surface-contaminated objects, portable gauges, radioactive medical isotopes, and empty packages that may contain residual contamination.

Packages for transporting high-risk levels of radioactive material

Packages designed for the transport of high-risk levels of radioactive material require certification by the CNSC before they can be used in Canada. Users of these packages must register with the CNSC and acknowledge that they have the necessary instructions to properly prepare the package for shipment. The types of packages that require certification by the CNSC are: Type H, Type B, and Type C packages, and packages designed to contain fissile material.

These packages are designed to transport nuclear substances such as cobalt-60, sealed sources used for industrial radiography, used nuclear fuel and enriched uranium.

Packages requiring certification have to undergo stringent testing since improper packaging can give rise to severe consequences. Testing must simulate both normal and accident conditions of transport. The tests can include free-drop testing, puncture testing, thermal testing and aircraft accident simulations.

Testing methods in Canada are very similar, if not identical, to methods used by other international regulatory bodies. The following videos offer examples of international testing simulations performed on transport packages:

Application process

For packages requiring approval by the CNSC, an application for the certification of the design of the package must be submitted. The process is identical for all packages requiring approval for use in Canada, including those already approved for use in other countries.

In order to assist applicants in preparing an application for certification, the CNSC has cooperated with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States Department of Transportation to produce RD-364, Joint Canada – United States Guide for Approval of Type B(U) and Fissile Material Transportation Packages (published in the U.S. as NUREG-1886). This application guide can be used for both a new application and revalidation of a U.S. package design in Canada.

An application typically contains information on the structural design, thermal evaluation, shielding evaluation, containment of the nuclear substance in the package, the operation of the package, the maintenance program to be followed and the applicable quality assurance program.

The PTNS regulations do not prescribe specific standards to be followed for the design of packages but do require that compliance be demonstrated through testing on specimens or scale test models, by engineering calculations and reasoned arguments using national or international industry standards or through reference to similar previously certified packages.

Application review

The application is assessed by CNSC transport specialists who must be accredited as professional engineers. They carry out a technical review of the information and applicable test results submitted as part of the application to ensure that the package design meets all the requirements specified in the PTNS regulations. The transport specialists may also request assistance from other CNSC specialists depending on the characteristics of the design. For example, for packages designed to contain fissile material, the application contains an analysis demonstrating that the package remains subcritical following the tests, and the analysis is reviewed by a specialist in that field.

To assist in the review and to confirm that the packages comply with all applicable requirements, the transport specialist uses:

A peer review of the assessment is completed by another transport specialist to ensure that the package fully complies with all applicable requirements.

Upon completion of the peer review, a summary of the assessment of the application and associated recommendations on the certification of the package design is provided to the CNSC designated officer responsible for issuing the certificate.

Where approval is not recommended, an appeal process is available under the PTNS Regulations that the applicant can use to provide additional information and justification demonstrating that the package fully complies with all applicable requirements.

The review of an application for a brand new package may take up to one year, while six months is usually required for changes to the design of a previously approved package design.

See the list of CNSC Certified Transport Packages and Special Form Radioactive Material (PDF).