For some 50 years, the IAEA has been at the forefront in the development of model regulations for the safe transport of radioactive material.
At the 1998 IAEA General Conference, member States concluded that a high level of safety is achieved when IAEA Regulations are followed. At the General Conference in 2000, ution was adopted (pdf format) that encourages all Member States to bring their national regulatory documents into conformity with the 1996 edition of the Transport Regulations.
A recent survey by the IAEA showed that European Union countries, most other industrialized countries, and many developing countries all take the IAEA's transport regulations into account in their national regulations. Also international organizations which develop regulations for transport by road, rail, water and air use the Agency's Transport Regulations as their model.
"Radioactive material has been transported for decades," said Ron Pope, Head of the IAEA's Transport Safety Unit. "Such transport now involves millions of packages each year, worldwide. The materials are used in the diagnosis and treatment of persons in need of medical help, making food more safe for consumption, improving agricultural yields, controlling the spread of disease, a large number of research and industrial applications, and generation of electricity," he said.
According to Mr. Pope, there have been no serious consequences, and not a single death, as a result of the radioactive nature of such material being transported. He said there is a high level of safety and a low level of risk involved when the materials are properly transported in a manner consistent with and in compliance with the requirements of the Agency's Transport Regulations.
The regulations apply a graded approach to the design, regulatory controls, and operation of radioactive material packages. The greater the hazard posed by the contents, the greater are the design requirements and controls imposed. A majority of the materials transported involve low activity sources. Shipments involving higher-activity sources, such as those used in the nuclear fuel cycle, require packages that are designed to withstand a series of demanding tests that simulate accident conditions and to retain containment and shielding following these tests.
The Transport Regulations are periodically revised to reflect changes in requirements relating to the basic safety principles established for radiation protection of the workers, the public and the environment; to reflect developments resulting from advances in technology; and to reflect lessons-learned from regulatory and operational experience in transport.
The Agency's Regulations were last revised in 1996. Working with the international organizations, including the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, and with Member States, it was agreed that for all dangerous goods, not just radioactive material, a standardized format would be developed. The United Nations Committee of Experts, which meets in Geneva, undertook the task of developing the harmonized model, which was issued in 1999. During 2001, the organizations responsible for issuing mode-specific regulations are adopting the requirements from 1996 edition of the Agency's radioactive material transport Regulations in this new format.