The Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste

A Systematic Basis for Planning and Management at the National, Regional, and Community Levels

Prepared By
Planning Information Corporation
Denver, Colorado
September, 1996


The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) formalized the goal that spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) from roughly 80 temporary storage locations in 36 states should be transported to one or perhaps two permanent geologic repositories for permanent disposal. 1987 amendments to the NWPA specified that Yucca Mountain (NV) was to be the site for the nation's single prospective geologic repository and the ultimate destination for these highly-toxic and long-lived materials.

Less clear since 1987 has been the strategy for managing waste until the time that the permanent repository is available. Should it continue to be stored at its current "temporary" locations, and shipped to the permanent repository when it is available? If so, federal government acceptance could be delayed 10, 20 or even more years beyond the 1998 acceptance date promised in 1982. Should it be transported to a centralized above-ground storage facility (which under current law cannot be in the same state as the permanent repository) to await a second shipment to the geologic disposal site? If so, the federal government would have to find a suitable site outside Nevada, and persuade its stakeholders that centralized storage would not become de facto a permanent above-ground repository.

Legislation proposed in the 104th Congress* would deal with these questions by shipping waste early and to Nevada. The legislation directs DOE to accept spent nuclear fuel at specified annual rates beginning not later than November 1999 for transport to a specified destination—a centralized above- ground storage facility on the Nevada Test Site, adjacent to Yucca Mountain. A viability assessment completed in 1998 is intended to provide some assurance that the wastes shipped to Nevada for above- ground storage could ultimately be disposed at a Yucca Mountain geologic repository, and that a second shipment to another interim or permanent site will not be necessary.
*Senate bill 1936 (S. 1936), a substitute for the earlier Senate bill 1271. A companion bill (H.R. 1020) is under consideration in the House of Representatives.

Neither Congress nor DOE has developed a plan for implementing the transportation and storage provisions of the proposed legislation. It is uncertain, for example, when shipments would begin, how rapidly they would proceed, what shipment priorities might be, what transportation/storage casks might be available, how utilities would choose among available casks, what routes would prove most acceptable, etc. How would these questions be resolved, and who would be involved in their resolution, at what stage and with what authority, responsibility and capability? How will the risks, "real" and "perceived," be addressed, assessed, and effectively managed? Even the role and accountability of DOE is uncertain, given its recent initiative to privatize the entire civilian spent fuel transportation system, leaving decisions about shipping containers, modes and routes largely up to private contractors.

Though occasional shipments of spent fuel and other highly-radioactive materials (e.g., cesium, naval reactor fuel) have been safely conducted and effectively managed, no land-based shipment campaign of the scale implied by proposed legislation has been conducted in the U.S. or elsewhere. How best to plan for and effectively manage such a campaign in our participatory federal system of governance of the 1990's has not been decided. It is generally assumed that such a campaign would require the coordinated participation of several federal and many state, local, and private agencies—each responsive to its own constituencies. It is acknowledged that these agencies would need to participate in an extensive array of activities over many months, years, even decades. It is generally acknowledged that a detailed description of the national shipment campaign, including an inventory of key local conditions potentially affected, is required as the basis for coordinated planning and management. But, though proposed legislation would make an unprecedented national shipment campaign a near-term prospect, such a detailed description is not available as a resource for the many parties which would expect to participate in its coordinated planning and management.

One way to reduce uncertainty is to develop scenarios which reflect specific assumptions regarding relevant factors, and which then provide detailed information (e.g., shipments by cask type, origin, route segment, and year) needed as the basis for planning and management. One purpose of this report is to describe several possible scenarios for the shipment campaign in prospect under S. 1936, and the direct consequences of these scenarios—prospective cask shipments of particular types on particular rail and highway routes in particular years. In the process, the report identifies the several factors and assumptions that underlie any scenario for a national campaign for shipment of SNF and HLW. These factors, combined in an integrated assessment process, suggest the type of information base needed in the planning and management of national shipment campaign—the inputs needed for analysis of risks and impacts, and for identification and resolution of issues ranging from overall campaign efficiency, to regional routing options, to issues specific to particular communities or route segments.

This study applied an integrated assessment system to develop scenarios considering three sets of potential utility transportation choices, two alternative routing strategies and two alternative truck cask options. It will be apparent in review of the factors and assumptions that many other scenarios for the prospective shipment campaign are possible. The integrated assessment process supports the consistent development of alternative scenarios with comparable outputs at the national, regional, and route-segment level.

As introduction to the scenarios, this section discusses the activities involved in planning and managing a national shipment campaign, the agencies which must coordinate to conduct these activities, the information needed as a basis for coordinated planning and management, and the factors that must be considered in generating this information.


To identify the range of activities involved in planning and managing a national shipment campaign, one might consider DOE's May 10, 1996 notice of proposed policies and procedures for implementing section 180(c) of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act regarding training for safe routine transportation and emergency response training.1 A review of this notice, which summarizes and responds to previous stakeholder comments on the subject, provides a useful list of the activities which will be involved in the transportation of SNF and HLW from about 80 origin sites across the country, along numerous highway and rail routes, across many jurisdictions and communities, over a 30-year period to an interim or permanent storage site in Nevada. The list of activities, only a few of which DOE proposes to support with 180(c) funds, includes:


If the activities involved in nuclear waste transportation are numerous and varied, the actors are numerous and varied as well—adding to the need for federal agencies as well as potentially affected states and local governments to have a sound description of and an effective role in planning the shipment campaign in prospect. The actors, whose respective roles and responsibilities have been much discussed but not decided, include federal, state, local agencies as well as utility shippers, contract carriers, and others.

Assessment and Management Information Needs

However roles and responsibilities are decided, any federal, state, local agency or contractor will need certain information as a basis for planning, coordination, and management:

— how many cask shipments are expected?
— containing what types of SNF or HLW?
— in what types of casks?
— in which acceptance year?
— from which storage locations?
— by what mode? (rail, highway, barge)
— on which rail or highway route segments?

In sum, though they may focus on topics or geographic areas of particular relevance to their own responsibilities or contributions, any participating agency will need to plan and manage with reference to a detailed description of the shipment campaign, consistently developed at national, regional, and community levels.

Assessment System Factors

To generate such information for a transportation scenario, however, requires an assessment system in which explicit assumptions are made and information systematically generated regarding at least the following factors:

Assessment of risks, impacts, and policy options requires systematically-assembled information on key features along affected routes, as illustrated in section 21.

Scenarios Considered in this Study

Using an integrated assessment system, this study describes the national shipment campaign for scenarios which differ in utility transportation choices (three alternative sets), routing strategy (a base case and a consolidated southern routing strategy across central and western states) and cask options (two rail casks, plus one of two legal-weight truck casks). Figure I-1 summarizes the factors varied and held constant in these scenarios, providing references to relevant sections of the report.

The integrated assessment system can be used to describe in similar dimensions and detail any national shipment campaign which could emerge—e.g., scenarios reflecting a different current or projected inventory, different acceptance rates or priorities for pickup, alternative cask options, different utility transportation choices and/or alternative routing criteria.

Figure I-1. The Transportation of SNF and HLW: Key Assess System Factors and Variables

      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  1.WASTE ORIGINS   124 commercial reactors in 34 states   4 major DOE sites:
          Hanford (WA)
      Spent fuel from research reactors:   Idaho Nat Eng Lab (ID)
      General Atomics.... priority ranking   Savannah River (SC)
      DOE: 8 sites   West Valley Demo Proj (NY)
      Domestic non-DOE: 8 sites    
      Foreign: 3 temp storage sites in US    
  STORAGE LOCATIONS   82 pools assoc with individual reactors   Same 4 major DOE sites
      20 pools joined by transfer canals  
      11 pools shared by two reactors  
      7 pools at offsite locations (3 DOE)  
      14 onsite dry strg facil (ex & planned)  
  SHIPMENT SITES   83 sites (4 DOE) in 36 states   Same 4 major DOE sites
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  2.INVENTORY   Nov'94: 10809 MTU in 59418 BWR assemblies   13789-28372 canisters of vitrified HLW
      19149 MTU in 44602 PWR assemblies   Hanford: 7067-15000 canisters
      86 MTU in HTG, RSC, MSC SNF   INEL: 704-8500 canisters
      30044 MTU total   SRS: 5717-4572 canisters
          WVDP: 300 canisters
      Cumul: 30,682 MTU in 169,675 BWR assemblies    
      55,931 MTU in 129,517 PWR assemblies    
      86 MTU in HTG, RSC, MSC, SNF 86,699 MTU total    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  3.ACCEPTANCE START   Annual estimates, w/o specified start yr   Year 15: ie 2015 if 2000 start yr
  ACCEPTANCE RATE   Years 1- 5: 9100 MTU   Years 15-20: 4000 canisters
      Years 6-10: 15000 MTU   Years 21-25: 4500 canisters
      Years 11-15: 15000 MTU   Years 26-30: 5000 canisters
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  4.ACCEPTANCE PRIORITY   Oldest fuel (current & projected) first   Generally: 1. WVDP
      No within utility reallocations   2. SRS
      No among utility trades   3. HANF
          4. INEL
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  5.SHIPMENT GROUPS   Among acceptance years? No   Not applicable (canistered waste)
      Among assembly types? Yes    
      Among reactor types? No    
      Among waste origins? No    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  6.CASK OPTIONS   R125: similar to DOE's 125-ton MPC   R100: an adaption of DOE's 125-ton MPC
      R75: similar to DOE's 75-ton MPC    
      LWT: legal-weight truck cask    
      T4/9: the GA-4/9 cask, used if available    
      T1/2: similar to the NAC LWT    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  7.CASK LOADING FACTORS   Design crane capacity (tons)   Assume adequate to load R100
      Operating crane capacity (tons)    
      Cask set-down area (max cask option)    
      Cask length requirement (max cask option)    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  8.NEAR-SITE INFRASRUC   Onsite rail ?   Assume adequate to ship R100
      Operating onsite rail ?    
      Onsite rail upgrade cost    
      Distance to offsite railhead    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  9.OTHER TRANSPORTATION   Federal policies   DOE policy
  CHOICE FACTORS   Utility choice criteria   Changes at or near DOE sites
      Changes at or near utility sites    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  10.TRANSP CHOICE DECISION   Four case examples:   Factors 6-8 determine
      Big Rock Point    
      Point Beach    
      Salem/Hope Creek    
      Enrico Fermi    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  11.TRANSP CHOICE SCENARIOS   Current capabilities   All rail shipment, using R100
      MPC base case    
      Maximum rail    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  12.CASK SHIPMENTS   BWR/PWR assemblies in shipment group/   Canisters in shipment group/
      cask capacity (partially-filled cask=1)   5 canisters per cask
          (partially-filled cask=1)
      Non-BWR/PWR MTU in shipment group/    
      MTU per cask (BWR/PWR)    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  Default route/ highway:   HM 164; max use of interstate hwys;   NA
      Min transit time; two drivers;    
      Pop centers not avoided.    
  Default route/ rail:   Nearest railhead or designated barge;   Same as SNF
      Min carrier transfer; min transit time;  
      Pop centers not avoided    
  Consolidated southern route/   Uses Interstate 40 west of Okla City,   NA
  Highway   Interstate 15 north to Las V & Yucca Mtn  
  Consolidated southern route/ rail:   Uses Sante Fe lines west of Kansas City,   Same as SNF
      Union Pacific north to intermodal transfer  
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  14.ROUTE IDENTIFICATION   Locate designated route segments   Same as SNF
  & MAPPING   Identify on base highway/rail maps  
      Route segmentation  
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  15.ROUTING CASE EXAMPLES   Oyster Creek (NJ) to Yucca Mtn (NV)   NA
      Fermi (MI) to Yucca Mtn (NV)    
      Browns Ferry (AL) to Yucca Mtn (NV)    
      Cooper Station (NE) to Yucca Mtn (NV)    
      Grand Gulf (MS) to Yucca Mtn (NV)    
      Diablo Canyon (CA) to Yucca Mtn (NV)    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  16. NATIONAL SHIPMENT CAMPAIGN   Life of Operations Cask Shipments   Year 15-30 cask shipments
      Default routing   Sames as SNF
      3 transportation choice scenarios    
      ------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------
  17. NEVADA IMPLICATIONS   Life of operations cask shipments   Year 15-30 cask shipments
      Default routing   Same as SNF
      Nevada route segments   Same as SNF
      3 transportation choice scenarios    
      ------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------
  18. REGIONAL ROUTING OPTIONS   Life of operations cask shipments   Year 15-30 cask shipments
      Default and So consol routing   Same as SNF
      Selected route segments in:    
      Wyoming (UP and I-80) Colorado (SP and I-70) New Mexico (SF and I-40) Nevada (UP and I-15)  
      3 transportation choice scenarios    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  19.NATL SHIPMENT CAMPAIGN:   Current capabil choices/default routing   All rail shipment/default routing:
  ANNUAL SHIPMENTS   Year 1 cask shipments by origin:   Year 1 cask shipments by origin:
      Year 2 cask shipments by origin:   Year 2 cask shipments by origin:
      Year 3 cask shipments by origin:   Year 3 cask shipments by origin:
      Year 20 cask shipments by origin:   Year 20 cask shipments by origin:
      Maximum rail choices/default routing    
      Year 20 cask shipments by origin:    
      ------------------------------------------   --------------------------------------
  20. TRANSP OPER REQUIREMENTS   Life of operations and years 1-3   Year 15-30 cask shipments
      Cask shipment miles (total and per MTU)   Cask shipments miles (total)
      Cask shipments per route mile   Same as SNF
      2 transportation choice scenarios   Same as SNF
      ------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------
  21. ROUTE FEATURES   Illustrative:   Same as SNF
      Key route characteristics    
      Route conditions    
      Key facilities alongside    
      Administrative boundaries  
      Segment-specific management policies  


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