Department of Health

Key messages

  • The transport of radioactive material is subject to the Radiation Act 2005.
  • International and national standards ensure that radioactive material is transported safely.
  • Key steps for safe transport include appropriate packaging, labelling and documenting.

It is estimated that there are several million shipments of radioactive material annually worldwide, of which only 2–4% consisted of heavy loads of highly radioactive material, including nuclear fuel.

About half or more of these shipments were estimated to carry radioactive material of relatively low activity, including relatively short-lived medical isotopes, which need to be carried at high speed to ensure that they arrive at the destination in a useful state.

Under the Radiation Act 2005, it is an offence for a person to conduct a radiation practice unless that person holds a management licence that allows the conduct of that radiation practice. The definition of a radiation practice includes, among other things, 'transporting radioactive material'.

Standards for the safe transport of radioactive material

International standards

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has developed, during the past 40 years, the Regulations for the safe transport of radioactive material.

Australian standards

Regulating radiation transportation in Australia has, for many years, been based on the previously mentioned international regulations. In Australia, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) have published the Code for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material (2014) (the Transport Code (2014)). The Transport Code (2014) incorporates the International Atomic Energy Agency Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material 2012 Edition. The Transport Code is updated periodically to encompass the latest international regulations.

Regulation of radioactive material transport in Victoria

Victoria's approach to the regulation of the transport of radioactive material is to:

  • establish a clear distinction between
    • 'contract carriers' – organisations that transport radioactive material on behalf of others
    • 'consignors' – organisations that possess or sell radioactive material and periodically consign the radioactive material for transport by contract carriers. This is the 'shipper' of the material (in most cases it is likely to be the owner of the radioactive material and the person who initiates the transport process)
    • 'private carriers' – organisations that possess or sell radioactive material and, from time to time, as part of their normal operations, move that material from place to place
  • establish a distinction between the types of material that are authorised for transport to allow more targeted communications and monitoring. Management licences that authorise companies to transport radioactive material as a 'contract carrier', authorise the transport of one or more of the following classes of radioactive material
    • radiopharmaceuticals
    • radionuclides (that are not radiopharmaceuticals)
    • sealed sources (that are not high consequence sealed sources (HCSS)), as defined in the Radiation Regulations 2017
    • sealed-source apparatus (that do not contain high consequence sealed sources (HCSS)), as defined in the Radiation Regulations 2017
    • low–specific activity radioactive material
    • Category 1 HCSS
    • Category 2 HCSS
    • Category 3 HCSS
  • introduce important new national security requirements for the transport of certain types of sealed radioactive sources.

Radioactive material consignors' main responsibilities

As a minimum, the consignor is responsible for ensuring that the consignment of radioactive material is properly packaged, labelled, certified and documented. This consigning is a critical part of the transport process.

The certification and documentation includes the supply of documentation to the carrier, sometimes known as a 'consignor's declaration' or the 'Road/Rail/Marine Consignor's Declaration for Dangerous Goods – Class 7 Radioactive Material'.

To prepare for a shipment, the consignor must first establish a number of factors. These factors define, among other things, the required transport packaging standard that must be met:

  • type of radioactive material
  • total activity
  • chemical and physical form
  • A1 level (for special form radioactive material)
  • A2 level (for other types of radioactive material)
  • the material must be adequately contained to meet defined standards under normal and accident conditions, to prevent contamination of humans or the environment
  • humans must be protected from radiation exposure by limiting the radiation-dose rate levels on the outside of the package of radioactive material. These limits are based on very conservative assumptions on the occupancy time, and proximity of workers and the public to the packages during transport
  • the heat emitted in the decay of the radioactive material must be dissipated safely. This is generally done via package design and the way in which the package is secured for transport.

Certain materials may be approved under the international regulations as 'special-form radioactive material' if they meet test criteria, to limit exposures by encapsulation or making the radioactive material indispersible. A common example of this is found in smoke alarms.

Radioactive material transport packaging standards

There are three basic requirements for the safe transport of radioactive material:

The IAEA Regulations provide for a graduated approach where the standards of packaging increase based predominantly on the type of radionuclide and the amount of the radionuclide.

The four main types of packaging are:

  • excepted packages
  • Type A packages
  • Type B packages
  • Type C packages.

Where small amounts are to be transported, it is usually done in excepted packages (so called because they are excepted from all but the most basic requirements). Excepted packages are typically used for, for example, test samples and some medical isotopes.

Type A packages are limited by the quantity of materials and are required to maintain their integrity under normal conditions of transport.

Large quantities of material must be carried in Type B (U) or Type B (M) packages, which are capable of withstanding accident conditions. The actual design of the individual package defines how much material can be transported.

Type C packages are designed for air transport of larger quantities of material.

Radioactive material transport – quality assurance requirements

The IAEA Regulations require a number of quality-assurance measures that include pre-shipment checks, contamination controls, stowage standards, marking, labelling and placarding. This is for all Type A, Type B and Type C packages.

As an example, each package is required to be labelled with the:

  • consignor and consignee
  • United Nations (UN) number and proper shipping name
  • permissible gross mass (where the gross mass exceeds 50 kg)
  • package type
  • design number and serial number
  • radioactive trefoil (which must be fireproof and waterproof)
  • category of the package (I, II or III) according to the radiation-dose level, both at the surface and at 1 m – this is called the transport index or 'TI'
  • contents of the package
  • activity
  • numerical value of the transport index
  • criticality safety index (for packages containing fissile material).

Freight containers and vehicles carrying radioactive material must carry placards to indicate the class of material being carried. Where material of a single UN number is being carried, this has to be shown.

Note that some sealed sources are classified as a high consequence sealed source. There are additional requirements in these circumstances.

Radioactive material transport – more information

If you require clarification about the transport of radioactive material or require more information about this matter, please contact the department.

Reviewed 16 January 2019


Contact details

Our phone service is available Monday to Friday, from 9.00am to 1.00pm or we can be contacted via email. 

Radiation Safety Department of Health GPO Box 4057, Melbourne, VIC 3000

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