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Transport Safety


Why do we need to transport radioactive materials? Radioactive materials have been used to enhance the quality of our lives for over a century. Today, all manner of products that we take for granted are dependent upon the reliable transport of radioactive materials from manufacturer to end user. Several examples of such applications are described below.

Safe and Secure Transport of Radioactive Material - link to 30 minute version
  • In health care to diagnose and treat illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and organ failure. Eighty percent of surgical gloves and nearly 50% of disposable medical devices are sterilized using radioactive materials.
  • In industry for non-destructive testing, thereby supporting the construction and safety control of cars, airplanes, bridges and buildings. They are also used to produce improved plastics, detergents and semiconductors.
  • In our homes and work places, smoke detectors and energy sav­ing lights often contain small quantities of radioactive material. Some foods, packagings and the natural ingredients in cosmetics and medicines are sterilized using radioactive material.
  • In our environment radioactive materials are used for the control of disease carrying insects. They also help to remove pests in food and other goods, thus reducing the use of fumigation that is both toxic and harmful to the ozone layer. Additionally, radioactive materials are used to generate stable and cost efficient electricity to power our homes and places of work. New applications of radioactive material are being developed and the use of this technology continues to expand. This makes the efficient transport of radioactive material even more indispensable.
  • Radioactive material and mobile phones — If you own a computer or a mobile phone, then it will almost certainly contain electronic components made of tantalum metal.
  • Tantalum is not radioactive, but most of the minerals from which it is extracted are. These minerals have to be transported to processing facilities and in most cases have to be declared as radioactive materials. Besides electronics, tantalum is used to create advanced materials for aircraft engines and medical implants.
  • Cobalt-60: The silent slave — Cobalt-60 is a radioactive form of cobalt, a naturally occurring element that is often used in alloys. Like many other forms of radioactive material, it plays a hidden role in improving or saving lives. Cobalt-60 is used for treating cancer and is involved in some 45,000 treatments/day worldwide. Furthermore, nearly 50% of all single-use medical disposable products – including gloves, sutures, needles and dressings – are sterilized using cobalt-60. All parts of the transport chain collaborate to make sure this vital product is delivered in a timely manner to those sites involved in these critical health care applications.

A strong, established regulatory framework

In 1961, the IAEA published its first regulations (originally as Safety Series No. 6) for the safe transport of radioactive material. These regulations have been reviewed and updated regularly over the last 50 years, and form the basis of international modal regulations established by other United Nations bodies, such as the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization. The IAEA requirements are in turn adopted by national regulatory authorities creating a strong global regulatory framework.

The IAEA’s Statute authorizes the Agency to establish standards of safety to protect health and minimize danger to life and property. Safety standards provide a robust framework of fundamental principles, requirements and guidance to ensure safety The IAEA has a fundamental part to play through the Safety Standards Series and their application in achieving in Member States a high level of protection for people and the environment worldwide. 


Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials

Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials (SSR-6) are applicable to the national and international carriage of radioactive material by all modes of transport. Subsequent reviews - conducted by the IAEA’s Secretariat in consultation with IAEA Member States, relevant specialized agencies and various other United Nations bodies - have resulted comprehensively revised versions (published in 1964, 1967, 1973, 1985, 1996, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2012). All versions of the Regulations have struck a balance between the need to take account of technical advances, operational experience and the latest radiation protection principles while maintaining a stable framework of regulatory requirements.

The Regulations address all categories of radioactive material ranging from very low activity, including such materials as ores and concentrates of ores, to very high activity such as spent fuel and high-level waste. The material to be transported must be categorized on the basis of its activity concentration, total activity, fissile characteristics (if any) and other relevant subsidiary characteristics. Packaging and package requirements are then specified on the basis of the hazard of the contents and range from normal commercial packaging (for low hazard contents) to strict design and performance requirements (for higher hazard contents). Specific requirements are also established for marking, labeling, placarding of conveyances, documentation, external radiation limits, operational controls, quality assurance and notification and approval of certain shipments and package types.
SSG-26 “Advisory Material for the Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material


Regional Networks for Strengthening  Safety of Transport of Radioactive Material

The IAEA, recognising the benefits that can be achieved by the creation of regional networks dedicated to strengthening the safety of the transport of radioactive material, has requested the Secretariat to encourage and promote the establishment of these networks.

Several of these networks are currently being developed, notably in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean Islands, and the Mediterranean region.   An example of how this approach was implemented previously is an existing network, the European Association of Competent Authorities (EACA), which was created in 2008 by the competent authorities of the European Union. The EACA brings together on a voluntary and non-legally binding basis, 23 Competent Authorities and transport safety regulators for radioactive material of the Members States of the European Union.

Taking into account the lessons learned from the European Association, the various regional projects aim to foster a coordinated approach in order to develop a common understanding, promote more effective interaction between competent authorities of the Member States of the region and establish working links between the neighbouring networks.

The two documents below present the current development of the networks in the different regions:

  • The Regional Projects for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material
  • Brochure on "Strengthening the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material – A Regional Approach"


Safety Standards Series publications

Series No.
Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2012 Edition Specific Safety Requirements
Arabic; Chinese; English; French; Russian; Spanish
Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2009 Edition Safety Requirements
Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2005 Edition Safety Requirements
Arabic; Chinese; English; French; Russian; Spanish
Advisory Material for the IAEA Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material
Schedules of Provisions of the IAEA Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2012 Edition

Planning and Preparing for Emergency Response to Transport Accidents Involving Radioactive Material (2002)
Radiation Protection Programmes for the Transport of Radioactive Material

The Management System for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material
Compliance Assurance for the Safe Transport of Radioactive of Radioactive Materials
TS-G-1.1 (ST-2)
Advisory Material for the IAEA Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material
English; Russian

Training in Transport Safety

Related Publications

General Conference Documents


Listing of all Resolutions on Transport of Radioactive Material (1998-2008)

Outreach Material

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| Last update: Wednesday, 05 October, 2016.