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Supporting the Safe Transportation of Radioactive Material in Africa


An IAEA training course participant conducts a field measurement of a radioactive consignment during an October 2017 nuclear transport security exercise near Karlsruhe, Germany. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Each year, more than 20 million packages containing radioactive material are transported across the world, often using public railways, roads and ships. For six decades, international adherence to the IAEA’s Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material has helped to keep people and the environment safe from radiological hazards—to date, no one has ever been injured by radioactive material in transit.

However, in countries heavily engaged with uranium mining and milling, such as South Africa, Niger and Namibia, or in countries with expansive transportation facilities, like Djibouti and Tanzania, there is still a pressing need to establish requirements for the safe handling and transportation of radioactive material, and to equip regulators with the tools to enforce them.

The IAEA, through its technical cooperation (TC) programme[1], is providing detection equipment, technical guidance and training in 26 countries across Africa, to the National Competent Authorities responsible for the safe transport of radioactive material , in order to help them discharge their statutory duties.

Although the primary responsibility for safety lies with consignors and carriers, Competent Authorities are tasked with ensuring compliance with all relevant safety requirements. To help maintain and perpetuate the exemplary record of worldwide transport safety, the IAEA regularly supports the development of new skills and capacities by Competent Authorities, which are typically national regulators, ministries or specialized agencies.

“Competent Authority staff members must understand the technical aspects of the IAEA’s Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material and their application to the transport of radioactive material if they are to assure compliance with safety requirements,” explained Eric Reber, a Transport Safety Specialist in the IAEA’s Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. “Training courses like those offered through the IAEA’s TC programme and the Agency’s Transport Safety eLearning platform provide necessary training opportunities.”

From 18 to 28 January, 24 staff members of Competent Authorities in African countries attended a virtual training course to better understand the provisions of the Agency’s transport safety standards and other international guidelines. Lectures delivered by IAEA and international experts clarified the requirements for packages containing radioactive material, and preparing and transporting a radioactive consignment, regardless of the mode of transport — whether by land, sea or air — and the additional stipulations for packages moving through and across international borders.

Uranium mining is performed in a number of African countries, including Namibia, Niger and South Africa. The Husab Mine in Namibia, pictured here, is the second largest uranium mine in the world, after the McArthur River uranium mine in Saskatchewan, Canada. (Photo: Namibian Uranium Association)

Effectively regulating and ensuring safety

IAEA experts presented the principal safety concepts of the IAEA’s Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, and described how material should be classified and labelled, when inspections should be carried out, and how best to perform inspections on the basis of the African Transport Inspection Guide, a technical document developed through an earlier, IAEA-supported regional project[2].

“I received very useful guidance during the training course, helping me to better define shipment types and to understand their corresponding regulations,” said Adeline Yuego, a Regulatory Service Officer of the Cameroon’s National Radiation Protection Agency, and a participant in the course. “The training course was followed by a tutorial session, organized to review the established concepts and to ensure our restitution of the acquired knowledge.”

The training will also help Competent Authorities address the unique transport safety challenges faced in countries with large mining industries. Staff from Competent Authorities in Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Namibia and Malawi—as well as Benin, which has no uranium mining operations, yet is nevertheless affected by the shipment of yellowcake across its borders—had the opportunity to learn about how the IAEA Transport Regulations apply to naturally-occurring radioactive material (NORM) that is associated with mining and processing activities.

“The course was very useful and informative, but what I appreciated most is the fact that we have access to the presentations and videos, which we can replay at our own convenience,” explained Mercy Mbuende, a Radiation Physicist at Namibia’s National Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA). “The training course is made even more impactful, as participants like me are able to share the course contents with my colleagues at the NRPA.”

By the end of the project, which is scheduled to conclude by 2024, more than half of the participating countries are expected to have approved and implemented national regulations for the safe transportation of radioactive materials. In countries where these are in place, aligning them with international regulations, recommendations and best practices has been the focus of this project.

[1] RAF9063, ‘Strengthening Competent Authorities for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material (AFRA)’

[2] RAF9060, ‘Building Competent Authority Effectiveness on Regulating the Transport of Radioactive Material’

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