The Do’s and Don’ts of Transporting Radioactive Materials

Dear Dr. Zoomie – can you give me some good “do” and “don’t” suggestions for transporting radioactive materials? I’m sorta new to all this.

Boy – there’s an open-ended question! And so many things to choose from…hard to know where to start. So let’s see what comes to mind.

  • DO take a minute to properly secure your radioactive materials, especially if they’re in the back of a pickup or open bed truck. A company I used to work for sort of forgot to do this and a nuclear soil density gauge bounced out of the back of the truck when it was driving from a job site. Took us two years to find it again.
  • DON’T let bandits hijack your truck, especially when it contains a dangerous amount of radioactivity. This happened in Mexico a few years ago and got international attention…and not the good sort that increases your sales. One way to help with this is to make sure you have GPS tracking on any vehicles carrying dangerous levels of radioactivity.
  • DO make sure your radiation instruments have been calibrated – especially the ones you’re using to determine the Transport Index (TI) and for other surveys (more on this in a later posting).
    • DO make sure you label the packages correctly (White I, Yellow II, Yellow III) according to the radiation level you measure
    • DO make sure you remember to measure radiation dose rates on the package, outside the truck, and in the driver’s area
Labels Used on Radioactive Materials Packages

Labels Used on Radioactive Materials Packages

  • DON’T re-use Type A packages unless they are:
    • Designed to be reusable or
    • You’ve tested them and can document that they meet the criteria to be a Type A package
  • DON’T park a truck or car with radioactive materials in a sketchy place and leave it unattended – even if it is locked. Unlike a past consulting client whose driver left his locked car in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District (high drug use). The car was broken into, the radioactive materials (medicine intended to be used the next day) were stolen and were probably ingested by the thief, hoping to get high.
    • As an aside – when a cop asks you how he can tell if a drug addict has ingested radioactive iodine (which will destroy the thyroid), DON’T tell him to look for someone who looks lethargic since he will probably tell you the same thing he told me; “In this part of town, everyone looks lethargic. Got anything else?”
  • DO make sure that you and anyone else shipping or transporting radioactive materials have received proper training within the last three years.
  • DO make sure that your radioactive materials are blocked and braced so they can’t shift around in the vehicle when it starts, stops, turns corners, hits bumps, and so forth.
  • DO make sure you lock everything up so nobody can walk away with your radioactive source(s) or the equipment they’re inside
  • DO make sure you contract with a reputable company anytime you ship radioactive materials!
  • DON’T do this (please, please, please):
Punctured package containing radioactive material

Punctured package containing radioactive material

  • DO remember to fill out shipping papers and/or manifest – even when it’s your vehicle transporting your sources to a remote job site
    • And while you’re at it…DO remember to fill out the radioactivity in SI units (1 Ci = 37 GBq, 1 µCi = 37 kBq, etc.)
    • And DO remember to store the shipping papers in the door pocket, on the passenger’s seat, or another place in the driver’s compartment where responders can find them easily in case of an accident
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