Packaging and transport of nuclear substances

All nuclear substances are transported in packages that are selected based on the nature, form, and quantity or activity of the substance. There are general design requirements that apply to all package types to ensure that they can be handled safely and easily, secured properly, and are able to withstand routine transport conditions.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) issues licences and certificates for certain kinds of packaging and transport of nuclear substances as stipulated in the Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015 (PTNSR 2015). These regulations are based on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2012 Edition. The licences and certificates include:

  • licence to transport Category I, II or III nuclear material
  • licence to transport nuclear substances while in transit
  • licence to transport nuclear substances contained in large objects
  • licence to transport nuclear substances when the transport cannot meet all of the regulatory requirements
  • licence to transport nuclear substances that require a multilateral approval of shipments
  • licence to transport nuclear substances that require a special use vessel
  • certificates for the design of packages and special form radioactive material

The PTNSR 2015 introduce an ambulatory reference to the IAEA Regulations and no longer explicitly identify and list relevant paragraphs from them. This change ensures that Canadian regulations will continue to align with international regulations if international regulations are modified.

In February 2016, the CNSC published REGDOC-2.14.1, Information Incorporated by Reference in Canada’s Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015 to help the regulated community comply with the PTNSR 2015. REGDOC-2.14.1 links provisions in the regulations to relevant content in the IAEA Regulations, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, other CNSC regulations, and other related information.

Certification of transport packages and special form radioactive material

The CNSC regulates all aspects of the packaging and transport of nuclear substances, including the design, production, use, inspection, maintenance and repair of packages. In addition, the PTNSR 2015 require that certain types of package design be certified by the CNSC prior to being used in Canada. It also includes provisions for the certification of special form radioactive material, which indicates that the sealed source containing the radioactive material is designed to be strong enough to maintain leak tightness under the conditions of use and wear for which it was designed.

Learn more about the certification process for transport packages.

See the list of CNSC Certified Transport Packages and Special Form Radioactive Material (PDF).

Transport licences

The transport of nuclear substances is a regulated activity in Canada, with CNSC licensees involved in the majority of shipments. In general, the transport of nuclear substances does not require a CNSC licence. The PTNSR 2015 require that licences be issued only in the circumstances listed above. The majority of these licences are issued for the transport of in‑transit shipments (i.e., nuclear substances transiting Canada while being transported from one country to another) and for the transport of Category I, II and III nuclear material.

Details on the specific information requirements for each type of transport licence application can be found in section 6 and section 7 of the PTNSR 2015.

In-transit shipments

Most shipments transiting Canada have no Canadian licensee involved at the origin or destination. When nuclear substances are transported in packages requiring certification, a CNSC licence to transport is required. Note that a shipment transiting Canada by aircraft or by ship, where there is no scheduled stop, does not require a transport licence. The application for such a licence must include information such as the name of the consignor, a description of the nuclear substances to be transported, the amount to be transported and the reason for selecting a route through Canada.

Shipments that cannot be transported in pre-approved packages

A licence to transport under special arrangement is required when a shipment cannot be transported in an already-approved package. The applicant must provide justification as to why the shipment cannot be made in any of the types of approved packages found in the PTNS Regulations and the IAEA SSR-6Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material(PDF), and must provide adequate compensatory measures to ensure the safety of the shipment under the PTNS regulations.

Category I, II and III nuclear material

A CNSC licence to transport Category I, II or III nuclear material is required to transport material that is defined in section 1 of the Nuclear Security Regulations (PDF), such as plutonium, various grades of unirradiated uranium-235 and irradiated fuels consisting of depleted or natural uranium, thorium or low-enriched fuel.

Read about the certification process for transport packages.

The regulatory guide G-208, Transportation Security Plans for Category I, II or III Nuclear Material (PDF) offers assistance in preparing a written transportation security plan as required under section 5 of the Nuclear Security Regulations when applying for these licences.

Additional information