Thousands of packages containing radioactive materials and sources are transported each year by several modes of transport in the Netherlands. A substantial part concerns the delivery of radioactive medicaments to hospitals. In addition, dozens of companies that are specialised in non-destructive testing transport radioactive sources by road on a daily basis to various industrial locations or by sea to drilling platforms on the continental shelf for quality control of welds.

Finally, fissile substances or ores are transported regularly for the nuclear industry. After more than fifty years of experience we may conclude that all these movements occur safely, i.e. without any accident resulting in release of significant amounts of radioactive material or exposure of persons to high doses of radiation. This is mainly due to the safety approach that is used when transporting radioactive substances.

Safety approach

When transporting radioactive substances, protection must be offered for the following risks:

  • External radiation dose by the radioactive source;
  • Internal or external contamination after the contents of the package is released;
  • Criticality occurring during transport of fissile material;

These protection goals are reached through the following measures:

  • Packages are provided with sufficient shielding material.
  • Packages must ensure containment. More specifically: adequate precautions must be taken to prevent the contents from leaking out of the package.
  • Criticality must be prevented through a good package design. This may be achieved by the use of neutron-absorbing materials.

A gradual approach is followed: the level of safety built into the package is commensurate with the potential hazard of the contents. When the risks are extensive, the package must be able to resist serious accidents and, when the risks are low, lighter packages that cannot necessarily resist accident conditions are sufficient. This safety approach means that protection is primarily achieved through the strength of the package. In addition, organisational and administrative measures are taken to increase safety even more.

International agreements

In a more practical sense, this safety approach has led to international agreements on the types of packages that may be used and the extent of protection that they are required to provide. There is also international agreement on the administrative requirements (notification, licensing and certification) under which countries are prepared to accept movements of radioactive materials from other countries through their territories. The common interest and objective of these agreements is to prevent as much as possible unnecessary delays and consequently therefore, longer exposure to radiation in the case of transboundary shipments.

The result has been the realisation of international regulations for the transport of radioactive substances that were published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the first time in 1961. Later on, an additional 8 major revisions of this publication were published, the last one in 2012.

Publication of licences

In contrast to the situation with licences for the use of radioactive materials, there is no obligation to publish transport licences in the Government Gazette. Since the Dutch policy with regard to nuclear safety and radiation hygiene stands out because of its high degree of transparency, the decision has been taken to publish transport licences on a voluntary basis on the website of the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection. The licences issued by the Minister of Economic Affairs are published on this website as well as the licences granted for use of radioactive materials.

An important exception has been made with regard to the publication of licences for transport of Security Categories I, II and III at the instigation of a few neighbouring countries, in particular, France and Belgium. The result of this is that these will no longer be published in their entirety on the website of the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection, but the publication is limited to the announcement that a licence has been issued. This means for the Radiation Protection Team that licences for, in particular, slightly enriched fissile material fall under this new regime. This change in policy was announced by the Minister of Economic Affairs in his letter dated 30 September 2013 to the President of the House of Parliament.