Shipping Nuclear Material Safely

Radiation label beside the transport wooden box Type A package in the truck

Every year, U.S. shipping companies transport around 3 million shipments containing nuclear material. We use radioactive substances for cancer treatments, power generation, scientific research, and more. Transporting radioactive material isn’t that much different from transporting any other cargo, but it requires specialized equipment and procedures to keep everyone safe.

Laws and Regulations

Shipping nuclear material is one case where most people would agree that extra regulations are a good thing. The regulations vary depending on how radioactive a shipment is. For some materials, the metal walls of a shipping container are more than enough to protect people from radiation. For more dangerous materials that could threaten public safety, regulations dictate specialized packaging, labeling, and handling procedures.

Secure Packaging

The last thing anyone wants is a containment breach. That’s why nuclear material is shipped in special packaging designed to resist impact, fire, and water and keep radiation from escaping. Containment for radioactive items usually involves multiple layers of metal, concrete, and composite materials.

Enhanced Security

The world is a dangerous place, and there are many bad actors who would like to get their hands on nuclear material, making extra security necessary. Logistics companies dealing with nuclear items plan their shipping routes carefully, and each shipment is tracked constantly. Trucks may even travel with an escort of armed guards. In addition, most shipments of nuclear material avoid heavily populated areas whenever possible.

Extra Training

It doesn’t take a degree in nuclear physics to drive a truck containing radioactive material, but drivers should at least know the basics. In particular, they must be educated about handling procedures and safety precautions. Radioactive material is generally safe when it’s handled properly, but mistakes can be costly. It’s important that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.

Transporting nuclear material is a unique challenge for shipping companies, but with proper precautions and preparations, it’s a challenge that any logistics professional can meet.

Freight Forwarders Fight Wildlife Trafficking

Tiger running in water

Wildlife trafficking has always been an issue, but over the last few decades, it’s escalated to an international crisis. Both governments and nongovernmental organizations around the world are starting to place increased focus on the prevention of wildlife trafficking.

Why all the fuss? Wildlife trafficking harms endangered species and is a potential threat to global security. When we bring animals into a different environment, it’s impossible to predict the outcome. Consider the case of the European starling in the United States. This bird didn’t have a presence in the U.S. until 1890, when a few breeding pairs were introduced to New York’s Central Park. Today, you’ll find starlings by the millions in every corner of the country. These birds found few natural predators in the U.S. and forced many native species to the brink of extinction. Every year, European starlings cause hundreds of million dollars in damage to agricultural concerns.

The Department of Justice is committed to illegal wildlife trade prevention. This agency works with international partners to stop this trade.

What’s Driving Wildlife Trafficking?

Wildlife trafficking is big business. According to the World Economic Forum, this illegal industry is worth about $23 billion worldwide.

Exotic Pets
Some wild animals are imported because people want exotic pets. While having a pet tiger or alligator may sound like a good idea for a James Bond villain, it rarely works out well.

Traditional Medicine
Some traditional medicines depend on animal ingredients. However, most of these treatments have never been proven effective by any scientific study.

Unusual Foods
Sometimes, wild animals are imported for food. Everyone’s heard of shark fin soup, for example. Fishermen routinely kill sharks to harvest their fins and satisfy the demand for this dish. The saddest part is that the sharks’ fins add very little to this soup, which is usually made of chicken broth.

Fortunately, it’s not just governments that have the power to curtail wildlife trafficking. The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) has teamed up with TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, to develop freight forwarders’ strategy for combating wildlife trafficking. Together, they’re offering freight forwarders a free course on wildlife trafficking prevention to educate shipping professionals about protecting themselves from accidentally smuggling wildlife and reporting identified crimes. Members of the shipping industry are uniquely positioned to spot, report, and ultimately end wildlife trafficking.

The Global Availability of Safe, Compliant Marine Fuels

Cargo ship against big city skyline with world map overlay

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency that regulates marine shipping standards, plans to reduce the maximum amount of sulfur in marine fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% by January 1st, 2020. These regulations on ship emissions are intended to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, a toxic pollutant, and other contaminants entering Earth’s atmosphere. Compliance with fuel regulations is enforced by the state or country where each ship is registered, but IMO is working with countries and shipping industry leaders across the globe to ease the large-scale transition to new fuels. However, the marine shipping industry has concerns about the global availability of low-sulfur fuels and the impact it will have on fuel prices.

Sulfur Dioxide’s Effect on Health and the Environment

Most ships use fuel derived from crude oil, which contains sulfur. Burning this fuel releases sulfur oxides (SOx), which are harmful to human health and can lead to respiratory infections, lung disease, itchy eyes, and trouble breathing. Sulfur emissions are also detrimental to the atmosphere, contributing to acid rain that can harm crops, forests, and marine animals.

In 2016, Finland submitted a study to IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee on the health impacts of sulfur oxide emissions from maritime shipping vessels—it’s estimated their SOx emissions would contribute to more than 570,000 additional premature deaths from air pollution worldwide between 2020-2025 if limitations aren’t enforced by next year. The new sulfur limits on fuel oil will significantly reduce the amount of sulfur oxides emitted by shipping vessels, and they’re expected to have major health and environmental benefits the world over, especially for citizens living close to ports.

What Limiting Sulfur Emissions Means for Marine Logistics

The marine logistics industry and vessel operators have a few options for complying with the new IMO sulfur limits. The most obvious solution is to switch to a low-sulfur fuel that complies with the new regulation—however, the widespread availability of acceptable fuels to use in marine engines is uncertain. Another option involves installing exhaust cleaning systems (also called “scrubbers”) to remove sulfur oxides from the ship’s engine and gas emissions, but installing scrubbers is expensive and can increase a ship’s operating costs. The marine industry also has the option to switch to nonpetroleum-based fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). While LNG is a clean fuel substitute, the infrastructure needed to support its widespread use is limited in availability and scale.

The limited availability of low-sulfur fuels is expected to increase the cost of compliant fuel costs, making marine transportation more expensive until another solution is widely available. While the marine logistics industry and its vessel operators have several options for dealing with new sulfur regulations, there must be an effort from oil refineries to drive global change. Refineries and the marine logistics industry must work together to create a long-term solution for increasing the supply of low-sulfur fuels and minimizing the output of hazardous emissions.

Global Shipping’s Ocean Freight Services

Global Shipping Services conducts all business in strict compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of the countries and jurisdictions involved. We’ll make sure your marine shipment arrives at its destination safely while abiding by the new fuel regulations. Our years of experience and expansive global network allow us to provide competitive shipping prices amidst fluctuating fuel costs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you ship marine cargo compliantly and efficiently.