Rail Transport of Very Large Nuclear Components
Overdimensional or overweight nuclear products of Commbustion Engineering (C-E) have been shipped by rail, over the water and on road conveyances. Constraints imposed by the structural and dimensional limits of a particular route have strongly biased the choice of method and in one case, even justified the design and purchase of a unique railroad transport.
C-E acquired the 36 axle Schnabel (US Patent Nos. 4,041 879; 4,080,905; 4,083,311) rail car in order to move items weighing more than 800 short tons over long distances by railroad. Doing so takes advantage of existing rights-of-way and more robust bridges and route structures than exist for highways. Railroad dimensional clearances are generally greater than those for highways, and the schnabel car was designed to utilize that situation. It can raise, lower, and horizontally move the load (carried in between two similar car halves) for avoidance of obstructions which encroach upon the transport route. The schnabel car’s integral power systems make it possible to reach directly and pick up a load from, say, the deck of a barge. The car’s structural flexibility is such that it can alternately roll onto and off a floating barge or other seagoing vessel to load or offload cargo.
The 36 schnabel car is the world’s largest rail vehicle and has thus far operated successfully over eight of North America’s Class 1 railroads. Because it is so large, it includes several extraordinary onboard systems, such as an alarm system to warn operators if one side of the car becomes more heavily loaded than the other, and a “bootstrap” rerailing system which can, if ever needed, reach down to derailed wheelsets and lift them back onto the track.
With fewer nuclear components to be delivered, C-E’s emphasis is now shifting to use of the 36 schnabel car for the shipment of spent fuel and dismantled nuclear plant components. In decommissioning activities, the use of this equipment permits minimal civil construction and environmental impact, and minimal disruption to other on site facilities. This is so because most nuclear plant sites already include rail installations on which the loaded car can depart with virtually no additional construction. In the case of spent fuel shipments, the schnabel car’s high carrying capacity makes fewer individual shipments possible for a given quantity of fuel and provides a more massive, protected and controlled shipping method than do most alternatives.
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