Railroads can be called to carry almost anything – even radioactive materials. Far from the “Atomic Train” of motion pictures, real rail movements are discrete, secure and safe.
Radioactive loads can take many forms. The vast majority are in small quantities and of low-level radiation. The most common form of radioactive waste doesn’t come from the military or power generation but from the medical field. This low-level waste most commonly finds its way onto trains by way of intermodal shipments on board trailers or containers en-route to disposal sites.
More potent waste, such as fuel rods from power plants, must be properly sealed in casks for transport. These loads can travel in standard boxcars or gondolas, or heavy-duty cars for extra-large shipments. Many of these movements are made between power plants for shared storage or to research facilities. Once the national storage facility at Yucca Mountain is completed, rail shipments like these are expected to increase. That facility will have its own railroad for final delivery.
Most of these loads are simply marked and if you aren’t looking at the safety placards you could easily miss them. Some of the most visible and impressive loads come via the Department of Defense. These casks come in a variety of sizes and are loaded on heavy-duty flatcars or other specialized equipment. The casks themselves would make an interesting modeling project using plastic tubes and sheets.
So while the prototype cars may not glow in the dark (probably a good thing!) radioactive transporters are not pure modeling fancy. These can be fun additions to a model railroad. The fact that thousands of these shipments have been made over the past thirty years without a single accident attests to the fact that in reality, these shipments are handled very seriously.
Energize your operations with a special train. Besides the locomotive and cask car, you’ll want a car for the crew and possibly security – an extra caboose or old coach would work – and a few buffer cars between the cask and the locomotive and attending crew car. Oh, and go easy on the throttle!