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Friday, June 20, 1997

CONTACT: Sharon Tanzer
Ed Lyman


NCI Rebuts BNFL Newsletter of June 12, 1997

• BNFL totally ignores the fact that the IAEA has adopted new standards for packages intended for air transport of radioactive materials. The new air transport packages (known as "Type C" containers) will be required for air transport of most radioactive material in 2001.

• Contrary to BNFL's assertion that the container and not the mode of transport is important, the IAEA's new regulations recognize the special safety requirements of air transport.

• Under present regulations, radioactive material can be transported by air in the same packages ("Type B") that are approved for ground transportation, even though aircraft accidents can be much more severe than those occurring on land.

• Type B casks only have to survive an impact speed of 13.2 meters/second (30 mph) and a 30-minute, 800 degrees C. fire. Type C casks will be designed to survive an impact of 90 meters/second (203 mph) on an "unyielding" surface and a 60-minute fire.

• A loophole in the new IAEA regulations may allow MOX to continue to be transported by air in Type B casks by designating MOX a "low dispersible material."

• As much as several kilograms of plutonium in respirable form could be released from a mid-sized shipment of MOX (40 fuel assemblies) in the event of a high-velocity air crash (90-130 m/s). Plutonium is a potent carcinogen, if inhaled, and a rapid release would cause a public health emergency.

• While Type C standards are more stringent than Type B standards, they are not stringent enough to guarantee that air transport of radioactive material will be acceptably safe.

• According to the IAEA's own data, there is approximately a 10% chance that the impact speed experienced in a plane crash will exceed 90 m/s. In contrast, the airlines' "black box" data recorders are designed to survive all but 2% of plane crashes and are impact tested at a severity comparable to a crash at 135 m/s.

• In establishing its new standards, the IAEA has ignored the criticism of professional aviation organizations. The Dangerous Goods Panel of the International Civil Aviation Organization regards the Type C impact speed, fire temperature and lack of sequencing of impact and fire tests as insufficiently severe.

• U.S. law bars shipments by air of plutonium until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses a container that "will not rupture under crash and blast-testing equivalent to the crash and explosion of a high-flying aircraft."

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