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Return shipment of vitrified residues from France to Japan

Return of vitrified residue to Japan in transport casks

Logistics records/areas of development

Executive summary

Since 1995, several shipments of vitrified residues have been safely carried out from France to Japan. As well, in 1996, the return of vitrified residues by rail to Germany was initialised. These transports have begun the process of residues return from France to their country of origin; similar transports will be performed in the years to come on a regular basis.

Background

The transport of vitrified residues from France to Japan is provided for by the reprocessing contracts signed between AREVA NC and 10 Japanese electric utilities. These contracts lay down that conditioned final residues are returned to the country of origin.

These returns begin with the transport of final waste conditioned into glass.

Schedule

The canisters of vitrified residues, belonging to Japanese electric utilities will be loaded into transport casks in the facilities of the La Hague plant.

The transport of the casks will take place on board of one of the ships regularly used for the transport of used fuel and vitrified residues between Japan and Europe.

The casks will be transported from France to Japan, by one of the three routes used for this type of transport (Panama Canal, Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope) then transferred to a dedicated facility at Rokkasho-Mura where the canisters will be unloaded and stored.

Technical aspects

The waste arising in the fuel at a nuclear power plant amounts to only 3% of the used fuel. In contrast to the plutonium and uranium, which are recycled since they have an important energy value (1 gram of plutonium is equivalent to 1 ton of oil), the waste has no use at all and cannot be recycled. After having been separated by reprocessing operations, it is vitrified i.e. incorporated within a very stable glass matrix. The glass is poured into a stainless steel container 1.34 m in height and 0.43 m in diameter, where it solidifies. The weight of this canister is around 500 kg.

The canisters are transported in a specific cask, licensed by French and Japanese Authorities. Each cask, designed to ensure the safety of the transport, weighs around 100 tonnes, is 6.6 m long and 2.4 m in diameter. It is similar to a used fuel transport cask. Each cask can contain 20 or 28 canisters (a new MX6 cask will be also used in the future).

The ships have been specially designed and are only used for the transport of nuclear materials. Their length is in the range of one hundred meters. Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) own three purpose-built ships which have been approved for the transport of vitrified residues.

The casks and ships used, as well as the organisation of the transport meet the latest requirements of the applicable international and national regulations, including those related to safety (International Atomic Energy Agency recommendations, and International Maritime Organisation).

operations plan

DRV = Destorage and loading facility for PNTL casks = NFT marine transport company = Japanese transport company JNFL = Company operating the Rokkasho-Mura site

 

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Why does France return vitrified residues to Japan?

Return of vitrified residue to Japan in transport casks

Japan, like France, is engaged in a comprehensive long-term program for the development of its nuclear energy industry, producing secure supplies of electricity.

This strategy includes a complete closed fuel cycle ensuring the proper management of the used fuel and nuclear waste, by recycling the used fuel, conditioning and disposing of the waste, and recycling the valuable fissile materials: uranium and plutonium.

In order to manage such a program, the Japanese power companies have decided to contract for overseas reprocessing services with AREVA NC in France and BNFL in the United Kingdom, and to develop their own industrial facilities.

Consequently, for more than 15 years, the AREVA NC facilities at La Hague, together with BNFL's facilities at Sellafield, have been receiving, storing and reprocessing the used fuel shipped from Japan, as well as from other countries following the same policy: Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In 1977-1978, AREVA NC signed "Reprocessing Service Agreement" with individual customers of the above countries. AREVA NC is performing the service of reprocessing while the ownership of the products remains with the customer.

Through the application of the contracts, AREVA NC has to return the residues to the customers, which will ensure their subsequent management in a safe storage facility.

Uranium and plutonium are recycled for further electricity generation in power stations.

These "Reprocessing Service Agreements" are being carried out smoothly by AREVA NC for each customer, and for the Japanese Power Companies in particular. The return of products and residues to Japan is now under way in accordance with the commercial contractual obligations to serve the global strategy of nuclear development in Japan.

Both Japanese and French governments support the principle of this return.

- Technical complement (http://www.AREVA-nc.fr/scripts/AREVA-nc/publigen/content/templates/show.asp?P=599&L=EN&SYNC=Y)

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What is a canister of High Level Waste?

Canister of High Level Waste

The vast majority of the radioactivity associated with nuclear electricity production is due to the fission products created during the nuclear fission in the reactor, and contained in the used fuel. The fission products have no possible use and are managed as High Level Waste (HLW).

Through reprocessing, these fission products together with traces of other final waste, are "vitrified" that is to say incorporated into a borosilicate glass for their definitive immobilization and confinement in a form suitable for final disposal.

An international consensus recognises the borosilicate glass as the best adapted and most suitable matrix for these wastes. This, together with the High Level Waste contained, constitutes the vitrified residues, representing 99% of the total radioactivity of the various waste sorted out by the reprocessing operations in a compact volume.

The specifications of the glass produced by the AREVA NC La Hague reprocessing plant have been approved by the French Safety Authorities and confirmed by the governmental Authorities of Japan, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Vitrification starts with the transfer of the solution containing the fission products into a calciner. There, after heating and consequent evaporation, a powder is formed. This powder is then mixed with glass frit and heated at 1.100°C. The fusion process at high temperature guarantees the complete incorporation of the fission products into the glass matrix.

A molten glass is obtained and poured into a stainless steel canister onto which, once it has cooled down, a cover is welded.

Diagram showing vitrification

After a non-contamination check on its surface, the canister is transferred into the ventilated pits of the interim storage building.

During interim storage, the production of heat as well as radioactivity decreases with time.

Glass pouring

The canister is a stainless steel cylinder 1.34 m in height and 0.43 m in diameter, containing 150 liters (400 kg) of solid glass, with a percentage of 14% of fission products corresponding to the reprocessing of around 1.3 tonne of used fuel on average.

Vitrification facility

Borosilicate glass performances

To safely dispose of the fission products and the long-lived actinides removed from the used fuel, it is necessary to secure them in a matrix which has characteristics suitable for final disposal, especially stability and good leach resistance. After extensive research in several countries, glass has proven to be the optimal solution for immobilizing the more than 30 different chemical elements present in the highly radioactive liquid waste solution.

Nature provides examples of the glass obsidian remaining for thousands of years without alteration.

There is an international consensus (France, Japan, UK, USA, Germany...) on the choice of borosilicate glass as being the best matrix for immobilizing fission products and long-lived actinides in a solid form.

In France, studies on this type of glass began in the 1960s. The R &D activities aimed at finding the most appropriate glass formulations by studying the behavior of selected formulations and developing the industrial technology. A first active facility was commissioned in 1978 in Marcoule (AVM). The operating experience gained with AVM was a valuable input to the design of two further units, which started active operation in 1989 (R7) and 1992 (T7) at La Hague.

In Japan, similar glass formulations have been studied for a long time.

Canister of high level waste
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How are the canisters transported to Japan?

Transport cask

A cask has been specially designed to transport the canisters of vitrified residues, optimising constraints of weight, size and heat dissipation.

This cask is named TN 28 VT, and can hold 20 or 28 canisters of less than 2 kW each. Its weight and size are similar to casks used for the transport of used fuel (TN 12, TN 17...).

The preliminary operations before shipment consist of  "de-storage" of the canisters from the La Hague interim storage facility T7, and the completion of a final inspection, before they are loaded into the transport casks.

The TN 28 VT transport cask has been designed by Transnucleaire, a French subsidiary of AREVA NC devoted to nuclear materials transportation. The TN 28 VT cask is a 6.6 m high, 2.4 m diameter cylinder with a total weight of 112 metric tonnes. It fulfills the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulation criteria for the so-called Type B package. It is fully licensed by the French and Japanese Authorities.

The shipment itself is similar to the used fuel shipments from Japan to La Hague. It involves the following successive steps:

  • Transfer of the transport cask by road over 40 km from La Hague to the railway terminal of Valognes. AREVA NC uses a trailer with a maximum gross weight of 160 metric tonnes, with 8 lines of double axles, meeting all domestic regulations regarding heavy load and hazardous material transportation.
  • At the Valognes railway terminal, the cask is loaded onto a specially equipped wagon licensed by the French railway company.
  • Rail transportation over 20 km to the Cherbourg commercial port.
  • At the embarkment pier of the Cherbourg port, the transport cask is transferred to the PNTL vessel by using a pier crane.
  • Sea transportation from Cherbourg to the Japanese port of Mutsu Ogawara. BNFL is acting as AREVA NC subcontractor for the sea transportation, carried out by PNTL ships. PNTL is owned by BNFL (62.5%), AREVA NC (12.5%) and the Japanese utilities (25%).

PNTL uses one of the vessels which has routinely transported used fuel from Japan to France and the United Kingdom. These ships are 104 m long and 16 m wide. Each ship carries sufficient amounts of fuel to complete a journey, without any port-call. They meet the international standards and requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and comply with the requirements of the Japanese Ministry Of Transport (JMOT) as well as the British and French competent Authorities.

PNTL ships, with more than 4.5 million miles covered without a single incident resulting in the release of radioactivity, have a safety record second to none. With over 20 years experience, PNTL has transported more than 4,000 casks in over 160 shipments.

 At Mutsu-Ogawara, Nuclear Fuel Transport (NFT), as a subcontractor to Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), takes charge of handling the casks using a pier crane to unload the cask from the sea vessel and to place it on a road trailer.

Road transportation over 5 km from the port to the Rokkasho-Mura interim storage facility, using a heavy load (135 metric tonnes) road transport vehicle is carried out by NFT as JNFL subcontractor.

JNFL receives the transport casks. Completing the transport operations, the transport casks are delivered to the storage facility and the canisters are removed for inspection and placement in the storage area.

Technical complement

The TN 28 VT transport cask designed by the French company Transnucleaire, subsidiary of the AREVA NC Group, is used to transport the vitrified residues from France to Japan.

  • Outline of TN 28 VT
  • Safety features of a PNTL vessel

 

PNTL vessel and TN 28 VT canister
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What is the regulatory framework for the transport?

Return of vitrified residue to Japan in transport casks

All the equipment and every operation related to this shipment complies with the relevant national and international regulations. International organisations, with the participation of representatives from member States, issue these recommendations and regulations. At a national level, each country has its own laws and regulations, consistent with the recommendations and regulations established by the international organisations. In particular, the transportation of nuclear waste complies with two types of stringent and well established regulations: dangerous goods and radioactive materials.

Dangerous goods transportation

Dangerous goods transportation is regulated by various rules depending on the modes of transport (road, rail and sea) and the countries involved.

In France, the current regulations are the order relative to the carriage of dangerous goods by road dated 5.12.96 (based on the European Agreement concerning the international carriage of Dangerous goods by Road or ADR), and the order relative to the carriage of dangerous goods by rail dated 6.12.96 (based on the international Regulations concerning the carriage of dangerous goods by rail or RID).

Sea transportation complies with the rules of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). This Code offers guidance to persons involved in handling and transport of radioactive materials in ports and on ships (provisions on identification packagings, marking, labelling and placarding, stowage, documentation and marine pollution aspects).

Radioactive materials transportation

In Japan, the transport of radioactive materials is subject to the regulation for the transport of nuclear materials outside the facility and the regulation for carriage and storage of dangerous goods by vehicle.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations are adopted internationally and apply in both Japan and France.

The regulations are enforced by each country's Authority and rely on the integrity of the transportation package to ensure safety during transport. For this reason, the regulations define three packaging categories and design criteria, taking into account the radioactivity as well as the form of the material transported.

In particular, in order to transport canisters of vitrified residues, casks must comply with the stringent IAEA Type B specifications.

Moreover, in 1993 the IMO established the INF Code, which recommends stringent requirements for ensuring the safety of vessels carrying radioactive materials, covering the design specifications of the vessels concerned. PNTL ships comply with the code for ships carrying large quantities of radioactive material - INF 3. Indeed, the PNTL vessels have operated to this type of standard since 1979 - nearly 15 years before the Code was introduced.

The regulatory bodies in charge of implementing the regulations

In France, the Autoritie for the Safety of Nuclear Installations (ASN) is in charge of the safety regulations of the transport. The Authority over this Directorate is equally shared by the government ministers responsible for industry and environment. The Nuclear Protection and Safety Institute (IRSN) provides expertise for the evaluation of safety to the DSIN.

In Japan, the Ministry Of Transport (JMOT) and the Science and Technology Agency (STA) are responsible for the implementation of transport regulations.

- Technical complement (http://www.AREVA-nc.fr/scripts/AREVA-nc/publigen/content/templates/show.asp?P=617&L=EN&SYNC=Y)

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What are the transport safety measures?

Vitrified residues for Japan

All the equipment used for the transportation of the returned residues is designed in accordance with relevant regulations, which take into account possible accident scenarios.

Transport vessel safety features

The ships used for the safe transportation of vitrified residues have routinely transported used fuel from Japan to France and the United Kingdom for more than 20. These ships meet the international standards and regulations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They also comply with the Japanese Ministry of Transport (JMOT) regulation KAISA no 520.

In particular, the ship is equipped with:

  • A double bottom and double hull structure for minimizing damage and for safety in case of accident,
  • Duplicated navigation, communication, electrical and cooling systems,
  • A cask cooling system installed inside each hold,
  • A comprehensive fire fighting system maintained in case of emergency,
  • Emergency sources of electrical power,
  • Satellite navigation and tracking systems.

All sea transport operations are carried out according to applicable international regulations. A full worldwide emergency response system is operated, including a 24-hour standby team and salvage cover.

Transport cask safety features

The TN 28 VT transport cask, as a Type B package, complies with a series of technical criteria, established in order to cover both normal operations and extreme situations.

A list of very stringent tests must be performed to check the resistance and safety of the package. The IAEA accident conditions tests include two kinds of drop tests: a 9 meter drop onto a totally unyielding surface and a one meter drop onto a steel spike. The cask, with any damage sustained in the drop tests, is then subjected to an engulfing fire test for 30 minutes at 800 degrees Celsius, followed by an immersion test. After these tests the cask must still be leaktight and retain enough of its shielding to ensure radiation doses are within internationally agreed limits.

A complete safety evaluation, including regulatory tests of the TN 28 VT cask, has been performed showing that the safety criteria related to structural integrity, thermal performance, containment level, shielding capability and maintenance of sub-criticality are all satisfied. This ensures the safety of the transportation cask under normal and extreme situations.

Safety in depth

A series of barriers are used in order to protect nuclear cargo during every phase of the transport process: this system of protection is called "safety in depth". From the vitrified stable glass in a stainless steel canister to the 100 tonne transport cask, fixed in the hold of the ship and protected by its double hull, a scenario of the glass becoming directly exposed to the sea water is incredible.

Even in the highly extraordinary assumption of the successive ruptures of the hold, the cask and the canister, leading the solid glass block itself to be exposed, the leach rate of this special material is very low.

The results of an environmental impact assessment performed by the Japanese Science and Technology Agency (1995) show that the effect of such a scenario would be negligible, an exposure rate to the most affected person of less than one thousandth of the naturally occurring radioactivity they receive annually.

explanatory diagram on transport safety
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Physical protection aspects

Vitrified residues transport cask

The possible use of nuclear material for non-peaceful purposes underlines the need for its special protection: effective systems are therefore required to protect nuclear material and facilities from theft, sabotage and unauthorised removal. The responsibility clearly rests with governments for ensuring that such systems are properly established and operated.

The IAEA and its Member States and in the European Union, EURATOM, give specific attention to activities against illicit trafficking and illegal use.

The physical protection regulations distinguish three different categories of nuclear materials associated with specific measures from the most stringent ones to the less demanding.

Because of their nature (extremely low amount of fissile materials conditioned in such a way that they are neither recoverable nor reusable), vitrified residues are not classified in the category requiring stringent measures.

The basic guidelines for physical protection systems have been developed by the IAEA (INFCIRC/225/Rev. 3, Recommendations for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material). First published in 1972, the guidelines have been revised a number of times since then.  They cover physical protection for nuclear material in use, storage, and transport, both domestically and internationally. They have proven to be of significant importance in the development of international agreements and national requirements. For nuclear material in international transport, the responsibility for implementing effective physical protection systems rests with the shipping and receiving States.

INFCIRC/225/Rev.3 sets an objective for States

INFCIRC/225/Rev.3 sets an objective for States to establish conditions which would minimise the possibilities for unauthorised removal of nuclear material or for sabotage and requires that appropriate measures, consistent with national requirements, should be taken to protect the confidentiality of information relating to transport operations, including detailed information on the schedule and route.

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material which entered into force in 1987 obligates States Parties to implement specific protection measures for nuclear material in international transport and establishes a framework for international co-operation in the field of physical protection.

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material obligates parties to make specific arrangements and meet defined standards of physical protection for international shipments of nuclear material.

PNTL complies with the requirements laid down in the Convention and in INFCIRC/225/Rev. 3, acts on security requirements issued by the UK Government and takes the appropriate physical protection measures necessary to be able to deal with the risk of theft, robbery or any other unlawful taking of nuclear material.

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Before and after shipment: interim storage facilities

Canister storage building

The radioactivity of the short-lived fission products, and thus the heat produced, decreases naturally very rapidly in the first few years and continues to reduce significantly in the first decades after the production of the glass.

At both ends of the transportation chain, an interim storage facility is needed for the cooling of the canisters. The French and Japanese interim storage facilities are based on the same concept.

In France, at AREVA NC La Hague, the canisters of vitrified residues produced by the two vitrification facilities (R7 and T7) are temporarily kept in a buffer storage for initial cooling before return transportation to the customer' s countries. The buffer storage of each facility includes 400 storage channels, each containing 9 canisters. Transfer of the canisters from the vitrification unit to the storage channels, as well as from the storage channels to the transportation casks, is performed by a remotely controlled, shielded transfer machine, thus ensuring a permanent and complete containment of the canisters.

In Japan, the long-term program for research, development and utilisation of nuclear energy requires an interim surface storage of vitrified HLW for further cooling over three to five decades before final disposal. Consequently, a waste management facility has been built at Rokkasho-Mura for the accommodation and storage of all the canisters of HLW returning from France and the United Kingdom. The initial capacity of the interim storage facility will be 1,440 canisters with further extensions added as needed.

The canisters are being placed in 160 storage channels, each accommodating 9 canisters in a thimble tube to ensure containment. Cooling is performed by air flow along the tubes. The impact of this installation on the environment is well below the authorised limits.

Technical complement

Description of Rokkasho-Mura interim storage facility

This facility is a part of a substantial nuclear site located 55 m above sea level, which includes an enrichment plant and repository for LLW arising from nuclear power plants. It will host the future reprocessing plant to be built by JNFL. The interim storage facility includes two buildings:

Canister receiving building

This building is equipped with cranes for handling the transportation package, ventilation equipment, solid waste storage facility, etc. A temporary store can hold a maximum of 22 transport casks.

Canister receiving building

Canister storage building

This building includes canister inspection equipment, and canister storage space.

Storage channels for the canisters are located in an underground area with sufficiently thick concrete walls (160 storage channels).

9 canisters are arranged vertically, and contained in thimble tubes. This means that the cooling air flows along the thimble tubes.

Canister storage building
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Final disposal of vitrified residues in Japan

Return of vitrified residue to Japan in transport casks

After the interim storage period, allowing for the decay of most short-lived fission products and thus the cooling of the vitrified high level waste, the canisters can be disposed of in a deep geological site for isolation from the biosphere.

Geological disposal of high level and long-lived waste is recognised world-wide as a technically sound concept.

The multiple barriers enclosing the waste, that is to say the borosilicate glass itself, the canister as well as other engineered barriers, and the rock formations surrounding the repository (natural barrier) will prevent a return of radioactivity from the waste to the human environment over a very long period.

Japan is undertaking such a programme, which involves several successive careful actions, to design and construct the most suitable repository site in terms of technical feasibility, environmental impact, economic considerations and public acceptance.

Technical developments are being continued by dedicated organizations. It is expected that repository operations will start by 2030s or mid-2040s at the latest.

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Ensuring quality and safety

Inspection of a vitrified residue cask

At the time of glass production

The relevant specification for residues sets the parameters to be met when they are manufactured and has been approved by the French Ministries in charge of Industry and Environment. This specification has also been approved by the Government Authorities in each of the countries which have their used fuel reprocessed at La Hague.

To guarantee that the glass produced complies with the specifications accepted by the Safety Authorities, AREVA NC has set up very stringent Quality Assurance and Control programs (QA/QC). These programs particularly stress the quality of the glass components and the process control during the glass production phase, as well as quality control.

In parallel, all AREVA NC's customers have contracted with Bureau Véritas1 with the responsibility of controlling the operations, with the checking of the Quality Assurance programs and with the ability to certify the compliance of each canister with AREVA NC specifications.

National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste

Moreover, ANDRA (National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste) is licensed to access all operating documents and to perform audits in the vitrification and destorage facilities, in order to verify the quality of all the vitrified residues produced in AREVA NC La Hague and their compliance with specifications.

ANDRA reports to the ASN which has also assigned it the role of interfacing with the customers Authorities (Science and Technology Agency in the case of Japan).

For each canister of vitrified residues produced at AREVA NC La Hague, a complete set of documents constituting the Quality Report is provided. For the customers, it includes the data relating to the process and to the controls performed on each canister, as well as the certificate delivered by Bureau Véritas.

  1. This French company offers services for security and Quality Assurance controls, in different fields such as industry, environment.

Before shipment

At the DRV (destorage facility) at La Hague, a final inspection is made on each canister. It includes a visual inspection, dose rate measurements and surface activity control.

These inspections are also monitored by Bureau Véritas. Subsequently, the canisters are loaded into the transport cask in the presence of the customer representatives.

After loading, the transport cask is examined to ensure its compliance with transport regulations: dose rate, surface contamination, surface temperature, etc.

The customer representatives witness the operations and formally accept the canisters and the loaded casks for return. Representatives from the relevant Authorities (STA, in Japan's case) are also involved in these operations.

Reception by the interim storage facility

The Japanese utility companies are required to implement measures so that the returned vitrified residues meet the standards and requirements for safe storage at the Rokkasho-Mura facility. The competent Authorities have to validate the measures implemented by the utilities.

Finally, JNFL will inspect the vitrified residue canisters thereby ensuring effective management of its facility.

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Emergency response arrangements and exercises

Return of vitrified residue to Japan in transport casks

In the unlikely event of a ship carrying highly radioactive nuclear materials getting into difficulty, a fully trained and equipped team of marine and nuclear experts are available on a 24-hour emergency standby system, in line with IAEA requirements.

In the event of a serious incident, this team would be dispatched to the ship and would direct and manage all remedial operations.

The strength and integrity of the packages coupled with the protection provided by the ship means that specialist assistance from countries adjacent to the ships route would not be required and the ship would not automatically head towards the nearest port to seek assistance.

If a PNTL vessel was lost at sea, it could be located by a sonar location system built into the ship itself, and capable of operation in waters over 6,000 meters deep.

Immediate arrangements can be put in hand to salvage the ship or cargo where required in the event of a vessel sinking. Since 1981, PNTL has had contractual arrangements with Smit Salvage, which has world-wide salvage capabilities along for all routes.

Emergency response exercises are a requirement of international radioactive materials transport regulations and form an essential part of any contingency planning system. Several emergency training exercises are held each year: they test the communication systems, the expertise of the team members and the ship’s crews as well as the performance of the emergency equipment.

Technical complement

All PNTL vessels operate an Automatic Voyage Monitoring System which reports the vessel's latitude and longitude, speed and heading every two hours to the constantly manned Report Center at Barrow. If a message is not received this would automatically activate the Emergency Response System. This system is supported by secondary systems such as telex over radio, radio telephone and company ship relay.

The Emergency Control Center at Barrow is fully equipped with charts for sea routes, ship and cask drawings and models, duplicated telex machines, several telephone lines (including a direct line to PNTL's headquarters), a ship stability computer, audio and video recording and an emergency power supply.

In the unlikely event of the loss of a PNTL vessel the emergency team is equipped with a sonar search system for locating the vessel. All the vessels are fitted with a sonar location and telemetry system which consists of four acoustic transponders wired to a number of onboard detectors. The sonar system is capable of operating in water depths in excess of 6,000 meters and has a range of up to 20 km. It can relay back to the surface:

  • The depth and angle of the vessel,
  • Whether the vessel is distorted or broken,
  • Whether the hatch covers are in place,
  • What the radiation level is in each hold,
  • The temperature.

The equipment is self-powered by high-grade lithium batteries with an expected life of over seven years.

PNTL believes that regular exercises are an important part of emergency response planning. The annual exercise program includes 2 United Kingdom based ship exercises (1 in port and 1 at sea), 2 exercises in Japan, 4 fire exercises, and 1 desk top communications exercise (UK and Japan).

All transport emergency exercises involve the call out of suitably trained and qualified personnel (health physics and engineering), their transport to the incident scene, and the necessary remedial actions to resolve a simulated radiological cask incident.

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What are the liability aspects?

Checking the sealing joint of a vitrified residue cask

The stringent safety arrangements - the high integrity of the vitrified residues themselves, the special transport casks, the specially designed and constructed ships, and the extensive emergency and salvage plans - provide substantial protection against risk of accidents.

In the highly unlikely case of an accident having any nuclear consequences, the Paris and Brussels Convention would enable a person who suffered injury or damage from the nuclear characteristics of the cargo to recover compensation without having to prove that anyone was at fault. The conventions cover damage suffered on the high seas and liability is backed up by insurance.

For the countries that are not covered by these conventions, a nuclear accident affecting their territory or territorial waters would be dealt with under relevant civil law.

In the case of an accident not having any nuclear consequences, the relevant civil law would apply.

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Communication of transport operations

Return of vitrified waste to Japan on the Pacific Swan

In addition to strictly enforcing internationally accepted and regularly reviewed safety rules and recommendations as well as ensuring the smooth operation of their international nuclear transportation, the industrial partners involved in the transportation of nuclear materials between Europe and Japan wish to increase the global understanding of the shipments.

The industrial partners are aware that along the overseas shipment routes, the interested governments and local public should be informed about the safety measures taken so that they are in a position to understand and assess the issues involved. The companies therefore consider that they have a responsibility to make the relevant information accessible and are continually assessing the most appropriate way to achieve this.

Representatives of BNFL, AREVA NC and the Japanese utilities have been listening around the world to understand local concerns and have discussed aspects of vitrified residues transports with governments officials, representatives of regional organisations and members of the media. A "come and see" approach has also been implemented: representatives from the governments of various countries, journalists and academics have visited PNTL' s facilities and the relevant nuclear facilities in the UK, France and Japan.

For example, when the third vitrified residues shipment transited the Panama Canal (1998) a group of journalists, together with a local environmental group, were invited to see the Pacific Swan and its cargo and stayed on board for about four hours as the ship moved through the Canal. In the same spirit, the Pacific Sandpiper visited in 1998 both Cape Town and Durban (South Africa) as part of an extensive informational mission to increase understanding of the safety of shipments of nuclear materials between Europe and Japan.

The ship was visited by media, government officials, academics and the public

The ship, carrying empty transport casks, entered the harbour of each city and was visited by media, government officials, academics and the general public (more than 2,500 people). Visitors were able to tour the vessel and discuss all aspects of PNTL's transport operations with the ship's crew and other staff. Regular open days are also held in Barrow for members of the public to see the PNTL ships and meet with the crews and staff.

A range of user-friendly briefing materials (brochures, videos and other information materials) have been produced and disseminated to the public. They cover all the main issues in varying degrees of detail and explain how the nuclear materials are transported. Information is also available on the BNFL and AREVA NC internet sites.

The transport operations of the PNTL fleet are also discussed with community leaders and local members of the public in the regular meetings of the Ramsden Dock Terminal Liaison Committee in Barrow, the home port of the PNTL fleet. The Committee comprises representatives from Barrow Borough Council, Cumbria County Council, the local emergency services and BNFL staff.

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