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Experts Examine Transport of Radioactive Goods by Road, Sea and Air

airplane on takeoff

There is a high-level of safety and a low-level of risk involved when materials are properly transported according to the IAEA's Transport Regulations. (Photo Credit: R.Quevenco/IAEA)

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The IAEA and international partner organizations are urging all countries to work more closely together for the safe and secure transport of radioactive materials used at hospitals, electricity plants, research institutes, and in many other industries. Under stringent packaging, operational and communication requirements, such materials typically are shipped nationally and internationally by road, air, sea, and rail.

At an international conference opening in Vienna 7 July, key topics cover the application of IAEA safety standards and model transport regulations, communication between governments about international shipments, regulatory rules and structures, and emergency response and preparedness.

Over 490 experts including government officials and regulators from 80 IAEA Member States and 13 international organizations are expected to attend the International Conference on the Safety of Transport of Radioactive Material from 7-11 July 2003, at the Austria Centre, Vienna.

On the key issue of safety, while transport accidents have occurred, none have caused serious radiological harm to people or the environment. Ronald Pope, Scientific Secretary of the Conference and former Head of the IAEA's Transport Safety Unit, says the Agency´s transport regulations for radioactive material have helped foster a strong safety record.

"There is a high-level of safety and a low-level of risk involved when materials are properly transported according to the Agency's Transport Regulations," he said. Most countries and many international organizations follow the safety standards and model regulations set by the Agency when transporting their radioactive material. The IAEA provides advisory expert services to assist national authorities in applying the standards and regulations.

Conference sessions will also be held on various technical subjects including:

  • Effectiveness of radiation protection in transport;
  • Compliance and quality assurance;
  • Packaging and transport of radioactive materials and non-standard radioactive material; and
  • Assessment and effectiveness of the regulatory criteria and process.

Also on the conference agenda is the issue of liability in the event of an accident. Under the current liability regime, legal uncertainties could surface if an accident were to occur in international transport. For example, which country would have jurisdiction for an in-transit accident and what liability limits would apply? The conference will review the current situation and consider the need for broad adherence to a global nuclear liability regime.

Another issue is communication between governments and with the public. A round table discussion will discuss topics such as the exchange of safety information between governments, notification of incidents and pre-notification for sea transports.

In his opening address the IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, is expected to tell the conference that radioactive material needed for medical treatment – such as cancer treatment and diagnosis – must be transported in a timely manner.

Of all dangerous goods transported globally, radioactive materials make up a small percentage. Estimates are that they account for less than 2% of such goods shipped by road; less than 2% by rail; less than 10% by air and less than 1% by sea.

The conference is co-sponsored by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and in co-operation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The findings of the conference are expected to be released Friday 11 July 2003. See here for full conference details.