Pollution News

Truck carrying radioactive uranium crashes in North Carolina


A truck carrying radioactive uranium crashed on a North Carolina highway on Wednesday, March 31, according to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. The highway patrol said the truck collided with a passenger van along the I-95 in Cumberland County late in the morning.

No injuries were reported but two of the truck’s four 1,000-gallon containers of uranium hexafluoride fell on the ground as the southbound semi-trailer overturned. None of the material leaked and the cleanup was not hazardous, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) said.

“We are proceeding to get equipment in place to right-side the tractor-trailer, then haul it away, off the interstate and reopen it,” the department added.

Uranium hexafluoride is commonly used to make fuel for nuclear power plants and is said to present minimal risk during traffic accidents. However, it can react with water and moisture to form highly corrosive chemicals.

The Highway Patrol shut down the I-95 in both directions and rerouted drivers as a precaution. Gene Booth, Cumberland County’s emergency management director, said that hazmat teams were sent to the crash site to assist the state highway patrol and the NCDOT.

“They’re formulating a plan for cleanup and removal of those containers safely out of the highway,” Booth said.

Crews were able to put the fallen containers back onto the truck after more than three hours. The northbound lanes were accessible again an hour after the accident while southbound lanes reopened shortly after 4 p.m.

Construction barriers blamed for road accidents

Some residents who live nearby blame the concrete construction barriers along the road for a spate of similar road accidents in recent weeks.

“We’ve had at least an accident a week since they started this construction, and they all look exactly like this,” Larry Shaul told Raleigh-based television station WRAL. “They get into that merge area, and they get a collision, and then the traffic goes from one side to the other, and then it shuts down both ways.”

Hittman Transport Services, a trucking company in Tennessee that specializes in the transport of low-level radioactive materials, operates the overturned truck. Orano USA, a Maryland-based company that decommissions and cleans up nuclear facilities, hired Hittman to deliver uranium hexafluoride to a customer for nuclear fuel conversion, according to Orano spokesperson Curtis Roberts.

“Transport of this type is conducted all the time,” he said. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around three million shipments containing radioactive material are transported in the United States every year.

“In the fifty-plus years of moving around uranium and other radioactive materials, there’s never been an incident that caused harm to either people or the environment,” Roberts went on. (Related: Nuclear site workers found to accidentally bring radioactive contamination home.)

How radioactive transport is handled and regulated

The EPA has very tight regulations for the shipment of radioactive material. While low-level nuclear materials, such as the uranium hexafluoride that Hittman’s truck carried, can be shipped with limited to no controls at all, highly radioactive shipments require controlled routes, extra security and notifications to state and local officials. Additionally, shipping companies have to use special packaging, labeling and handling to prevent leaks.

Hittman, which averages 300 radioactive transports a month, appears to have a good safety record, according to documents from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The documents showed that the firm had only one accident in the past two years, which resulted in one injury. Meanwhile, Hittman received five citations for hazardous materials issues since March 2019. Two of those were for improper placards while another two were for a lack of paperwork and an improper label. The other one involved failure to comply with safety regulations.

The documents also indicated Hittman had no vehicles or drivers pulled off the road out of 173 hazmat and 311 driver inspections over the last two years. However, eight of its vehicles had been sidelined out of 280 vehicle inspections over the same same time. But the company’s 2.9 percent out-of-service (OOS) rate, which represents the percentage of all inspections that result in OOS orders, was far below the national average of 27 percent.

Read more stories about nuclear accidents and what authorities are doing to keep the public safe at Nuclear.news.

Sources include:

TheSun.co.uk

ABC11.com

EnergyEducation.ca

WRAL.com

EPA.gov

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