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Understanding Radioactive Materials Shipping Labels and Placards

Source: Managing Radiation Emergencies: Identification of the Hazard (REAC/TS)


What do the labels for packages of radioactive materials indicate?

  • All shipments of radioactive material, with the exception of those containing limited quantities or those of low specific activity (LSA), bear two identifying warning labels affixed to opposite sides of the outer package.
  • Three different labels are used on the external surface of packages containing radioactive material.
    • White-I
    • Yellow-II
    • Yellow-III

The U.N. hazard class "7" is on labels of radioactive material.

Package labels specify the radioactive content and the quantity in curies. Yellow-II and Yellow-III also specify the transport index (see below).


Radiation Level Associated With Intact Package


Radioactive White-I

Almost no radiation
--0.5 mrem/hr (5 μSv/hr) maximum on surface

radioactive white-I

Radioactive Yellow-II

Low radiation levels
--50 mrem/hr (0.5 mSv/hr) maximum on surface; 1 mrem/hr (10 μSv/hr) maximum at 1 meter

radioactive yellow-II

Radioactive Yellow-III

Higher radiation levels
--200 mrem/hr (2 mSv/hr) maximum on surface;* 10 mrem/hr (0.1 mSv/hr) maximum at 1 meter

Also required for fissile class III or large-quantity shipments, regardless of radiation level

radioactive yellow-III

* "Exclusive use" shipments may be up to 0.01 Sv/hr (1 rem/hr), provided an enclosed vehicle is used. An unenclosed shipment (e.g., on a flatbed truck) may not exceed 2 μSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) on the surface.

Example of placard with data included:

Example of a placard with data included
(Source: Radioactive Materials Transportation and Incident Response (PDF - 7.85 MB) (FEMA, DOE/TEPP, May 2012)

Radioactive II: means "low radiation levels": >0.5 - 50 mrem/hr (0.5 mSv/hr) maximum on surface; 1.0 mrem/hr (0.01 mSV/hr at 1 meter

Contents: Transport Index (TI): TI 0.2, means at 1 meter from the labeled package the radiation dose should be no more than 0.2 mrm/hr (0.002mSv/hr). If a higher level is measured, the package may have been breached.

Activity: 366 GBq

Transport index: 0.2 means at 1 meter from the labeled package, the radiation dose rate should be no more than 0.2 mrem/hr (0.002 mSv/hr).

Hazard Index: 7 = UN hazard identification number indicates contents has radioactive material

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What do the placards for shipment of radioactive material indicate?

Typical radioactive material warning placard

Standard size is 10 x 10 inches. Typical radioactive material warning placard

The placard shown must be used anytime a vehicle carries one or more packages of a Radioactive Yellow III label or if the vehicle is operating under exclusive use provisions required for certain LSA shipments or packages with higher than normal radiation levels.

four-digit ID number
Any four-digit ID number shown on an adjacent orange panel is used for specific identification of the cargo. The rectagular panel shown here bears the international identification number (International Series) for radioactive material, LSA, n.o.s. (material containing uniformly distributed radioactive material in low concentrations). This is the same four-digit ID number that must appear with the proper shipping name on the package as well as on the shipping documents. Refer to this number in the Emergency Response Guidebook (2012 Emergency Response Guidebook: A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Incident, Department of Transportation, 2012, see especially pages 260-270 for radiation issues) for response information.

The number "7" at the bottom of the placard is the U.N. hazard class description for radioactive materials.
number at the bottom of the placard

Most shipments of radioactive material are accompanied by documents, such as shipping papers or bills of lading, which are of great value in assessing potential hazards in transportation accidents. These papers will have a 24-hour contact number for information about the material and potential health hazards.

Limits for non-exclusive use vehicle

  • 2 mSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) at surface of package
  • Individual packages cannot exceed 0.1 mSv/hr (10 mrem/hr) at 1 meter

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Limits for exclusive use vehicle

  • 20 μSv/hr (2 mrem/hr) in cab
  • 2 mSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) on surface of vehicle
  • 0.1 mSv/hr (10 mrem/hr) maximum at 2 meters

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Transport Index

What is the transport index (TI)?

transport index
The number given indicates the maximum radiation level (in mrem/hr) at a distance of one meter from the external surface of a package or container. (Readings in mSv/hr are multiplied by 100 to get mrem/hr.) For example, a TI of 3 (as shown above) would indicate that, at one meter from the labeled package, the radiation intensity that can be measured is no more than 3 mrem/hr (.03 mSv/hr).

If the radiation level at one meter from a package is found to be higher than the specified value, a radiation authority should be consulted. The package contents might have shifted, shielding might have been breached, or an error might have occurred in packaging or labeling.

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US Department of Health & Human Services     
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response National Library of Medicine