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Radioactive Placards and Labels: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who is responsible for applying dangerous goods placards on a truck — the shipper or the driver?


As per Section 172.506 of the US Hazardous Materials Regulations, the person shipping a hazardous material by the highway is required to provide the carrier the required placards for the material being transported unless the carrier's motor vehicle is already appropriately placarded. This section also identifies the carrier’s responsibility and prohibits them from transporting hazardous material without the necessary placards in place as mandated by the federal requirements.

Q. How do I find out which placards are appropriate?


Hazmat placards must comply with the specifications laid out in Subpart F of Part 172 of Title 49. Which placard to use when depends on the hazardous material you wish to transport and the class it falls under. This DOT chart can be a useful guide to help you understand your placarding requirements.

Q. What are the legal requirements to transport radioactive materials in the US?


The transportation of radioactive materials in the US is governed by several federal, state, and local regulations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The transportation mode and applicable controls depend on the radioactivity type of the material to be transported. While low radioactivity materials don’t need any strict controls, those with higher radioactivity must comply with various regulatory requirements. These usually revolve around controlled routes, security, and communication requirements, and packaging, marking, labeling, and placarding specifications, among other things. 

Additionally, adequate training in basic radiation science and radiation emergency safety is required, especially for the drivers transporting such materials. This is important to ensure that such packages are handled carefully to cause no harm to workers, the general public, and/or the environment. This EPA resource provides important information about transporting radioactive material. You may find the federal regulations here

Q. What are some good practices for handling radioactive substances?


Working with radioactive materials is a high-risk activity in most situations that requires special training and expertise. People who handle such materials are usually required to wear PPE, including safety glasses, lab coats, disposable gloves, and closed-toe shoes, among others. It is recommended to cover the work areas with absorbent paper that can trap contamination. The pieces of equipment used with radioactive materials should be reserved for such use only. It is also ill-advised to consume food, beverages, or medication in places where radioactive materials are kept. 

Radioactive materials cannot be stored like other regular materials and require special containers/ areas, which often depend on the extent of radioactivity. Disposing of these materials is also a specialized task. Hence, proper knowledge and training are crucial. It is also essential to adequately mark these materials and their storage containers and/or rooms to prevent accidental exposure. 

Please refer to this Princeton University document about handling radioactive materials safely for more detailed information and guidelines.

Q. What are the shippers’ responsibilities concerning radioactive materials?


The shipper’s responsibility regarding the transportation of hazardous materials, radioactive materials included, is detailed in CFR §173.22 of Part 49. Shippers are required to classify these materials and provide appropriate descriptions as detailed in other subchapters of the federal hazardous material transportation requirements. For the transportation of radioactive materials specifically, the shipper must notify the consignee of the dates of shipment and expected arrival. The notification should also include any special loading/unloading instructions if it’s the first shipment. 

Furthermore, when irradiated reactor fuel is transported, the shipper shall provide physical protection in compliance with a plan established under the requirements prescribed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the equivalent requirements approved by the Associate Administrator.

Q. Where may I find the design specifications regarding radioactive placards?


Specifications about radioactive placards are provided in CFR §172.556. In addition to complying with the general specification for placards detailed in CFR §172.519, radioactive placards have to have a white lower portion with a yellow triangle in the upper part. The base of the yellow triangle must be 29 mm ±5 mm (1.1 inches ±0.2 inches) above the placard's horizontal centerline. The radioactive symbol, text, class number, and inner border are required to be black.

While all Class 7 Radioactive Placards and Labels have a yellow and white background, the RADIOACTIVE WHITE-I label, as per CFR § 172.436, should have a white background. In this case, the printing and symbol must be black, except for the “I” which must be red.

Q. What do the different radioactive labels mean?


The different radioactive labels signify the radiation level associated with the radioactive material being labeled. Where the white radioactive-I label indicates extremely low radiation levels with 0.5 mrem/hr maximum on the surface, yellow radioactive-II labels convey low radiation levels, more than 0.5-50 mrem/hr maximum on the surface and 1.0 mrem/hr maximum at 1 meter. 

Yellow radioactive-III labels communicate higher radiation levels, more than 50-200 mrem/hr maximum on the surface and 10 mrem/hr maximum at 1 meter. These labels are also required for HRCQ shipments irrespective of the radiation level.

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