Nuclear Waste Transportation

What is this Site About?

This site is in development. The purpose of the site is to present information about the problem of High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage and the shipment of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste in the United States to the now-defunct Yucca Mountain site. The decision to refund the effort to license Yucca Mountain makes this information more relevant than ever before.

The shipping campaign proposed by the Yucca Mountain Program would have lasted for fifty years. It would also require substantially more shipments than have occurred in the United States in the past.

The primary source used for this website is:

Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada (DOE /EIS-0250F-S2) Department of Energy June 2008.

The website quotes heavily from this document, because it provides the most recent expression of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Yucca Mountain Program. The site contains quotes from the FSEIS document. This document describes some of the impacts associated with the construction and operation of the now-defunct Yucca Mountain waste repository. The quotes are cited by indicating the source and page number from the source e.g. (FSEIS P1-1)

The waste is stored at nuclear power plants and Department of Energy (DOE) facilities throughout the United States. The nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants is either stored in a cooling pool or in dry cask storage system.

High Level Radioactive Waste is unlike other hazardous materials because the hazard is manifested even during safe transportation. The radiological region of influence for these shipments is defined by DOE as 800 meters on either side of a cask.

What is Nuclear Waste?

Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended (NWPA) (42 U.S.C. 10101 et seq.) established US policy to dispose of these wastes.

"Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are long-lived, highly radioactive materials that result from certain nuclear activities. For more than 60 years, these materials have accumulated at commercial power plants and DOE facilities and continue to accumulate across the United States. Because of their nature, spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste must be isolated from the human environment, and monitored for long periods." (FSEIS P 1-1)

What wastes are proposed for storage?

1.3.2 SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL Spent nuclear fuel consists of nuclear fuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor, provided the constituent elements of the fuel have not been separated by reprocessing. Spent nuclear fuel is stored at commercial and DOE sites. Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel

Commercial spent nuclear fuel comes from nuclear reactors that produce electric power. It typically consists of uranium oxide fuel (which contains actinides, fission products, and other materials), the cladding that contains the fuel, and the assembly hardware. The cladding for commercial spent nuclear fuel assemblies is normally made of a zirconium alloy. Commercial spent nuclear fuel is generated and stored at commercial nuclear power plants throughout the United States. DOE Spent Nuclear Fuel

DOE manages spent nuclear fuel from its defense production reactors, U.S. naval reactors, and DOE test and experimental reactors, as well as fuel from university and other research reactors, commercial reactor fuel acquired by DOE for research and development, and fuel from foreign research reactors. DOE stores most of its spent nuclear fuel in pools or dry storage facilities at three primary locations: the Hanford Site in Washington State, the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho (formerly the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory), and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Some DOE spent nuclear fuel is stored at the Fort St. Vrain dry storage facility in Colorado. In accordance with DOE’s Record of Decision published on June 1, 1995 (60 FR 28680), the Department will transfer the fuel at Fort St. Vrain from Colorado to the Idaho National Laboratory before its shipment to the repository. Also, in accordance with the Record of Decision, spent nuclear fuel from domestic research reactors would be shipped first to Savannah River Site or Idaho National Laboratory before being shipped to the repository. The Department would transport all DOE spent nuclear fuel evaluated in this Repository SEIS to the Yucca Mountain site from the Hanford Site, Idaho National Laboratory, or Savannah River Site.


DOE stores high-level radioactive waste in underground tanks at the Hanford Site, the Savannah River Site, and the Idaho National Laboratory (Figure 1-1). High-level radioactive waste can be in a liquid, sludge, saltcake, solid immobilized glass, or solid granular form (calcine). It can include immobilized plutonium waste and other highly radioactive materials that the NRC has determined by rule to require permanent isolation. The DOE process for preparation of high-level radioactive waste for disposal starts with the transfer of the radioactive waste from storage tanks to a treatment facility. Treatment can include separation of the waste into high- and low-activity fractions, followed by vitrification of the high-activity fraction. Vitrification involves the addition of inert materials to the radioactive waste and heating of the mixture until it melts. DOE pours the melted mixture into canisters, where it cools into a solid glass or ceramic form that is very resistant to the leaching of radionuclides. The solidified, immobilized glass and ceramic forms keep the waste stable, confined, and isolated from the environment. DOE will store the solidified high-level radioactive waste onsite in these canisters until eventual shipment to a repository. DOE has completed solidification and immobilization of high-level radioactive waste at the West Valley Demonstration Project in New York, is continuing to solidify and immobilize waste at the Savannah River Site, and plans to begin solidification and immobilization at the Hanford Site in about 2019. DOE will use the Idaho High-Level Waste and Facilities Disposition Final Environmental Impact Statement (DIRS 179508-DOE 2002, all) to help determine the method for preparation of high-level radioactive waste at the Idaho National Laboratory for geologic disposal.


DOE has identified some weapons-usable plutonium as surplus to national security needs. This material includes purified plutonium, nuclear weapons components, and materials and residues that could be processed to produce purified plutonium. DOE currently stores these plutonium-containing materials at sites throughout the United States. On March 28, 2007, DOE announced its intent to prepare a supplemental EIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of plutonium disposition alternatives (72 FR 14543). In that notice, DOE announced that it intends to analyze alternatives that could result in DOE emplacing surplus weapons usable plutonium in the repository in two forms. One form could be vitrified plutonium waste that DOE would dispose of as high-level radioactive waste. In the Yucca Mountain FEIS, DOE analyzed the impacts of immobilizing surplus plutonium in a ceramic matrix surrounded by vitrified high-level radioactive waste. DOE is still considering this alternative. Another immobilization form DOE is considering is containment of this immobilized plutonium in a lanthanide borosilicate glass matrix surrounded by vitrified high-level radioactive waste for which DOE would perform analyses similar to those for immobilized ceramic plutonium it evaluated in the Yucca Mountain FEIS. An alternative would be to fabricate mixed uranium and plutonium oxide fuel (called mixed-oxide fuel) assemblies that would be used for power production in commercial nuclear reactors and disposed of in the same manner as other commercial spent nuclear fuel. (FSEIS P 1-9)

Where is it stored?

The waste is stored at locations throughout the United States. These sites are operating nuclear power plants, closed nuclear power plants or DOE facilities. Some of the waste is in fuel pools and some of the waste is in dry cask storage. The locations are depicted below.

There are 72 commercial and 4 DOE locations where these materials are stored throughout the Untied States. (FSEIS 2-45)

How did the DOE plan to transport the waste?

The primary method of transporting the HLRW was intended to be via railcar. The FSEIS estimated 9.500 rail cask shipments. The DOE estimated 2,700 truck cask shipments would be required. These shipments would be "overweight."

"DOE has since determined that trucks carrying truck casks would be more likely to have gross vehicle weights in the range of 36,000 kilograms to 52,000 kilograms (115,000 pounds). These overweight trucks would be subject to the additional permitting requirements in each state through which they traveled." (FSEIS P 2-45)

Some of the sites are no longer served by rail lines. These sites will require either barge shipping or heavy shipments to move waste from the originating sites to intermodal terminals where the waste can be transferred from a heavy haul tractor trailer combination onto a rail car.

High Level Radioactive Waste casks on rail cars

Trucks with Transuranic Waste

The site was prepared by Fred Dilger Ph.D. AICP. GISP. For more information contact: copyright 2017