nuclear milestone graphic
Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask.
Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) recently gave the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) the OK to begin building and testing Fortis—a high-tech railcar designed specifically to transport the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Fortis is one of two specialized railcars under development by DOE that could be operational within the next five years.

Fortis is an eight-axle, flat-deck railcar that will be able to transport large containers of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. It’s equipped with high-tech sensors and monitoring systems that report 11 different performance features back to the operators in real-time. The railcar design was completed earlier this year and received technical support from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. AAR signed off on the design in January 2021, allowing DOE to begin fabricating and testing the prototype in compliance with the rail industry’s highest design standard for railcars transporting spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

“DOE is working to improve performance of the rail transport system that will carry spent nuclear fuel in the future,” said Ned Larson, the federal manager for the railcar design project. “We are very pleased with the design of the eight-axle railcar that was completed and approved by AAR for a prototype.”

Flexible Designs

DOE is also developing a 12-axle railcar, called Atlas, to transport larger containers of high-level radioactive material. Atlas and Fortis will give the DOE transportation system more flexibility when transporting spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to disposal and storage facilities. Atlas is further along in the development process and is going through single-car prototype testing in Pueblo, Colorado.

DOE is currently seeking feedback from industry on contract options for the next phases of Fortis development through a request for information/sources sought notice. Railcar fabrication is expected to take about 18 months to complete once a contract is in place and will be followed by testing.

Both DOE railcars are on track to be approved for operation by AAR by the mid-2020s.

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