Transportation Accidents Involving Hazardous Chemicals Versus Those Involving Dangerous Nuclear Materials

Quarantelli, E. L.
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Disaster Research Center
In this chapter we focus on transportation accidents which involve hazardous chemicals and those which involve dangerous nuclear material. The chapter is organized into four sections. In the first section, we address the general kinds of risks to people and things which are inherent in the transport of dangerous nuclear material, especially spent fuel. In the absence of a meaningful data base of actual and past incidents, we must posit a hypothetical, future worst-case scenario for the analytical purposes required by the projected comparison. In the second section of the chapter we briefly examine the complete range of possible incidents of chemical hazards in transportation accidents. We observe at this point that hazardous chemicals are far more heterogenous in their potential and, in the extreme case, can be far more dangerous than the risks posed by the worst-case nuclear danger scenario we use. The third section of the chapter is devoted to a discussion of the common and unique functions relating to private and public sector preparations for and responses to both kinds of transportation hazards, as they have been reported in the speculative and research literature. Our general finding is that two kinds of dangers discussed require somewhat different rather than similar responses. We conclude the chapter with a summary of policy implications for emergency management derived from the functional comparison of the nuclear and nonnuclear hazards discussed in the preceding section. The major conclusion is that despite dissimilarities in the two threats, the existing literature appears to overemphasize technical problems and safe-guarding measures, and to underemphasize social organizational weaknesses in preparing for and responding to transportation accidents regarding both nuclear and nonnuclear hazards.
transportation accidents , hazardous chemicals , nuclear material