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 CNSC issues licences and certificates in certain cases for the 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’s) SSR-6, Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2018 Edition.

The PTNSR 2015 introduced 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.

The CNSC published REGDOC-2.14.1, Volume I: 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. They also include provisions for the certification of special form radioactive material, which specify that the sealed source containing the radioactive material must be 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.

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 transport-specific licence. The PTNSR 2015 require that specific transport licences be issued only in the following circumstances:

  • transport of Category I, II or III nuclear material
  • transport of nuclear substances while in transit
  • transport of nuclear substances contained in large objects
  • transport of nuclear substances when the transport cannot meet all of the regulatory requirements
  • transport of nuclear substances that require a multilateral approval of shipments
  • transport of nuclear substances that require a special use vessel

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. 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. Note that a shipment transiting Canada by aircraft or by ship, where there is no scheduled stop, does not require a transport licence.

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, such as plutonium, various grades of unirradiated uranium-235, and irradiated fuels consisting of depleted or natural uranium, thorium or low-enriched fuel.

REGDOC-2.12.3, Security of Nuclear Substances: Sealed Sources and Category I, II and III Nuclear Material, offers assistance in preparing a written transportation security plan as required under section 5 of the Nuclear Security Regulations when applying for these licences.

Shipments that cannot meet all of the requirements of the regulations

In some circumstances, a proposed shipment cannot be transported in accordance with all of the regulatory requirements. In this case, the applicant must provide justification as to why the shipment cannot be made in any of the types of packages found in the PTNSR 2015 and the IAEA SSR-6, Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material, 2018 Edition. The applicant must provide information to demonstrate that the overall level of safety of transport is at least equivalent to that which would be provided if all of the applicable requirements had been met. The licence will only be issued if the shipment can be done safely.

A circle made-up of four connected puzzle pieces demonstrating “Who Does What” with respect to the safe transportation of nuclear substances in Canada. Each puzzle piece represents different ownership of responsibilities in the process. Text version below.
Long description:

Safely Transporting Nuclear Substances in Canada: Who Does What?

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)

  • Establish classification criteria for the transport of nuclear substances and packages
  • Establish packaging standards
  • Certification of packages used to transport higher-risk nuclear substances
  • Issuance of transport licences
  • Review of transportation security plans
  • Establish requirements for radiation protection programs


  • Drivers’ licences and vehicle safety requirements
  • Speed limits, load securement and the weights allowed
  • First response in the event of an emergency
  • Highway and road safety and law enforcement

CNSC and Transport Canada

  • Communication of hazards (via labelling and marking of packages; transport documents; and placarding requirements for vehicles)
  • Reporting requirements

Transport Canada

  • Federal transport regulations for all major modes of transport, including modal-specific requirements for road, air, rail, marine
  • Training requirements of all persons who handle or transport dangerous goods in Canada
  • Operation of Canadian Transport Emergency Centre (CANUTEC) and management of emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs)

Additional information

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