If not managed properly, the transportation of inherently-dangerous hazardous or radioactive materials can result in accidents and spills, monetary damages, injury and even death.

About 20 million consignments of all sizes containing radioactive materials are transported worldwide each year on public roads, railways and waterways. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in 2016 alone, more than 5,500 incidents occurred during the transportation of hazardous materials, resulting in more than 54 million dollars of damage, 41 injuries and seven fatalities.

In order to move radioactive cargo safely and efficiently, this job requires an immense amount of knowledge and expertise. There are many moving parts to consider when transporting contaminated materials, including insurance and liability, regulatory restrictions, carrier qualifications, safety protocols and more.

Preparation: A Robust Insurance and Liability Plan

If you're working with a third-party logistics provider (3PL), as many shippers do, keep in mind that insurance and liability present unique challenges. In order to transport hazardous waste and/or contaminated materials, there are significant premium increases and regulations that 3PLs need to manage throughout the freight-forwarding quotation process.

There is an important distinction made between actual spent radioactive waste and materials that have been contaminated, such as tools and equipment used in nuclear plants. In order to be certified to transport radioactive waste and/or contaminated materials, 3PLs must retain a special insurance policy dependent upon a class system created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

When transporting materials that are inherently high-risk, liability is also something that 3PLs and freight forwarders must understand well. If a carrier takes a shipment without the proper documentation, the 3PL is liable, and must be ready to assume responsibility for any fines or damage. The 3PL is also liable for any equipment lost or damaged during transport.

An Unstoppable Safety Regime

With any hazardous material transportation, 3PLs must establish a system of safety protocols to ensure the safety of employees, carriers and the general public.

The majority of hazardous material transportation jobs revolve around utility plants. Before any vehicles and equipment may enter or leave the "gated area" of a plant, it must be searched extensively to ensure there is no trace of contamination. This process can take as little as a few hours or a full day depending on the size of the vehicle and trailer and material transported. Once this process is complete, it's time to hit the road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires full documentation of all materials traveling on public roads. The only way for the DOT officials to know what is being transported inside a vehicle is by reviewing the shipping manifesto. These documents clearly specify what is being transported through a classification system of words and codes in compliance with the DOT. Shipping manifestos must be readily accessible to the driver and to emergency response personnel at all times. In the event of an accident, emergency officials need to be able to quickly understand the material being transported and take the proper precautionary steps.

After transporting contaminated equipment and unloading materials, the vehicle and equipment must be inspected to ensure there is no residual contamination. This post-transport cleanup process is known as "free release." The vendor conducting the free release cleanup must be certified to do so and has final say as to whether the vehicle and trailer will be released for the next job. Beyond the vehicle and trailer, carriers must have all clothes laundered through a special process that targets and removes hazardous materials and accounts for the safe disposal of water used, keeping the truck driver, his/her family and the surrounding communities safe.