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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes 2 Current Initiatives for Improving Low-Activity Waste Regulation and Management The committee’s interim report presented an overview of current practices for regulating and managing low-activity radioactive wastes (LAW) in the United States.1 This chapter extends and updates information presented in the interim report. The first section of this chapter describes initiatives by U.S. regulatory agencies and other organizations that are directed at improving the current LAW system. The second section summarizes international practices and initiatives for managing LAW.2 The last section of this chapter addresses near- and longer-term issues regarding disposal capacity in the United States. Along with the interim report, the three sections of this chapter provide the basic picture of LAW regulation and management that led the committee to its views on how the present system might be improved. CURRENT U.S. INITIATIVES The interim report identified certain types of LAW that are not being managed efficiently under the present origin-based regulatory system.3 Regulatory agencies, professional and commercial organizations, and members of Congress also have recognized deficiencies in the present system and have put forth several important initiatives to address them. 1 The interim report is reproduced in Appendix A of this report. 2 Appendix B gives a more detailed summary of international practices. 3 See Sidebar 1.2 and also Chapter 4 of Appendix A.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes This section describes these initiatives within the context of the types of LAW that the interim report described as posing management challenges: Slightly radioactive wastes that fall under the statutory definition of low-level waste (LLW), Highly concentrated radioactive wastes that are defined by statute as LLW,4 and Wastes containing uranium- or thorium-series radionuclides, which are regulated inconsistently by federal and state agencies. Slightly Radioactive Low-Level Wastes A previous National Academies’ committee reviewed disposition options for slightly radioactive solid wastes from decommissioning the nation’s existing power reactors. That committee estimated costs of $4.5 billion to $11.7 billion for disposing of 10 million tons of concrete and metal debris in Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC)-licensed LLW facilities (NRC, 2002, p. 6). For smaller enterprises with limited funds for waste disposal, finding a safe and economical disposal alternative can mean the difference between cleaning up a site and releasing it for unrestricted use, and leaving the waste in place or storing it until an affordable option becomes available (Federline, 2004). This committee, along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USNRC as shown by their initiatives described below, considered whether other disposal methods may be able to provide protection for slightly radioactive wastes, given their low potential for posing radiological risks. Low-Activity Waste Disposal in Landfills In late 2003, EPA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) describing the potential use of RCRA hazardous waste landfills5 for the disposal of certain LAW, such as large-volume wastes that fall in USNRC Class A but are relatively low in radionuclide content (EPA, 2003). Subtitle C regulations require, among other things, that a 4 Clearly these are not LAW. As discussed in this section, the committee included them to illustrate the shortcomings of statutory definition of wastes according to their origin rather than their actual radiological hazard. 5 Hazardous wastes and their disposal are regulated by the EPA under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, as amended. These landfills are described in the ANPR, which is available at http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WASTE/2003/November/Day-18/f28651.htm.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes disposal facility have a cap to minimize infiltration of liquids and a liner and leachate collection system beneath the waste. EPA received some 1500 public comments on the ANPR and is proceeding slowly in its rulemaking. According to the ANPR, both EPA and USNRC believe that for certain wastes appropriate RCRA-permitted low-activity waste disposal can be as safe as disposal in USNRC-licensed facilities. EPA noted that RCRA landfills are currently being used for the disposal of a variety of radioactive wastes in accordance with state permitting requirements for these facilities. EPA’s approach would establish a national framework for the regulation of these types of materials that would lead to more uniform regulation. There are approximately 20 RCRA-permitted commercial disposal facilities in the United States, far more than the three commercial LLW disposal sites. Facilities in some states (e.g., Texas, Idaho) currently accept LAW exempted by the USNRC.6 These facilities and others also accept some types of uranium-bearing wastes, which are discussed later in this chapter. There are a few instances where states have permitted the use of RCRA Subtitle D municipal waste landfills for disposal of radioactive waste that contains very small concentrations of radioactive material. The committee noted in its interim report that very low activity wastes from the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point nuclear power plant were sent to a municipal landfill in Michigan. Other states, such as Texas, have determined that municipal landfills offer sufficient protection for certain types of radioactive material, for example, materials with very short half-lives, and have defined in their state regulations the kinds and amounts of radioactive wastes that may be so disposed.7 Limited or Free Release for Reuse Since 1999 the USNRC has sought to develop a rule that would provide alternatives to disposing of slightly radioactive solid materials in licensed LLW facilities. On June 1, 2005, the commissioners of the USNRC disapproved the proposed rule “Radiological Criteria for Controlling the Disposition of Solid Materials” (USNRC, 2005), which had been prepared 6 Under 10 CFR 20.2002 the USNRC has the authority to allow the release of very low level radioactive material from licensees, allowing disposal in unlicensed facilities on a case by case basis. The nuclear industry has found the 10 CFR 20.2002 process to be slow and expensive and, as a result, has submitted only about one alternate disposal application per year during the past 10 years (Genoa, 2003). 7 Texas Administrative Code, Title 25, Chapter 289, Section 202(fff).
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes by the USNRC staff. The rule would have allowed disposal of some very low activity wastes at EPA-regulated RCRA landfills or conditional reuse of some materials (e.g., for roadbeds, bridges). The commission deferred further work on the rule due to higher-priority tasks as well as the previous National Academies’ (NRC, 2002) finding that the USNRC’s practice of case-by-case approvals of alternate dispositions is protective of public health. In their individual comments, all of the commissioners indicated that such a rule needed further consideration, especially due to public stakeholder opposition to the proposed rule (see Chapter 4). Commissioner Merrifield commented, “This [rulemaking] is not just a simple matter of science. Recognizing the importance that our stakeholders place on this issue…. I felt that we needed to be a bit more creative in our approach to a complicated public policy issue” (Merrifield, 2005). Bulk Waste Disposal Because of its substantial efforts to clean up the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) former nuclear materials production sites, DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) generates the nation’s largest volumes of Atomic Energy Act (AEA) low-level wastes.8 As noted in the interim report, DOE is responsible for managing and disposing of its own AEA wastes and regulates wastes at its sites according to DOE guidelines and orders. DOE wastes become subject to USNRC regulations only if they are shipped to a commercial LLW facility. The basic performance requirements in DOE guidelines and orders are generally consistent with USNRC regulations, although DOE does not use the USNRC classifications of A, B, C, and greater-than-class C wastes. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), administered by EPA, applies to the cleanup of significantly contaminated sites, including the major DOE cleanup projects. Under CERCLA, DOE is required to follow a specified decision-making process, including public involvement, in planning site cleanup and waste disposal. A site-specific final plan is documented in a DOE record of decision, which EPA must approve. DOE’s policy is to dispose of its LLW at the generating site, if practical, or at another DOE site. In 2000, DOE designated Hanford, Washington, and the Nevada Test Site as sites that could receive LLW from all sites 8 The committee did not examine EM’s overall cleanup program or its disposal plans for other waste streams, such as transuranic or high-level wastes.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes TABLE 2.1 Large-Volume Disposals of DOE LLW Through Mid-2005 Facility Total Volume Disposed (m3) Comments Fernald (on-site disposal) 2 million Site will be closed in 2006 Hanford Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility (ERDF) 2.8 million Remaining capacity estimated to be about 6.0 million cubic meters based on 10 cells. More cells could be built Nevada Test Site 1 million Current capacity is 3.6 million cubic meters; total capacity nearly unlimiteda Envirocare of Utah 1.2 million About half of this DOE waste received from Fernald since 1999 aBecker et al. (2005). SOURCE: DOE Office of Commercial Disposition Options. throughout the DOE complex.9 However, if DOE sites’ own capabilities are not practical or cost-effective, DOE may approve the use of commercial treatment or disposal facilities.10 While DOE generates very large volumes of LLW, most consists of slightly contaminated soils and rubble from facility decommissioning and site cleanup. Table 2.1 provides an overview of how DOE has used a combination of its own and commercial disposal for these large volumes of slightly contaminated materials. Fernald waste provides a good example of DOE’s preference for using its own sites, but to use commercial disposal when necessary due to lack of on-site capability or when commercial disposal provides economic advantages. Because the Fernald site is being decommissioned and closed, DOE disposed on-site only the materials with the lowest concentration of radioactive material—mostly soils and foundations. The materials with a higher concentration of radioactivity, which still fell within USNRC Class A, were disposed in the commercial Envirocare facility. A last portion of the Fernald wastes, just under 7000 m3, is being stabilized with cement (grout) for shipment and storage at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) 9 Importing out-of-state radioactive waste to Hanford has been challenged by the State of Washington. DOE had suspended imports of waste from other sites at the time this report was undergoing review. 10 This activity is managed by DOE-EM’s Office of Commercial Disposition Options, which provided the data on DOE waste disposal that are presented in this section.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes commercial site in Texas. This waste, classified as 11e.(2) byproduct material, contains substantial amounts of 226Ra. WCS is currently seeking a license from the State of Texas to permanently dispose of this waste. In addition to disposing of very low level wastes in bulk at certain disposal facilities, the larger DOE sites each have disposal capability for wastes with concentrations of radioactive material comparable to USNRC Classes B and C. For example, Hanford disposed of about 2500 m3 of containerized waste in its LLW facility in 2004, including about 760 m3 from other DOE sites. In summary, DOE is essentially self-sufficient for its own LLW disposal needs. The committee did not attempt to judge the extent to which DOE’s LLW practices are risk-informed. However, in the broad perspective, DOE’s LLW disposal initiatives are consistent with the committee’s view of reasonable risk management practices: large volumes of wastes that present very little radiological hazard are disposed in relatively inexpensive bulk facilities. DOE’s large disposal cells such as the Hanford’s Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility are constructed under CERCLA and resemble RCRA Class C landfills—with cap, liner, and water collection system. Portions of DOE LLW that are radiologically more hazardous are disposed in DOE facilities comparable to USNRC-licensed LLW facilities. While there will continue to be challenges for DOE to implement cost-effective disposals of its many varieties of low-level wastes (GAO, 2005), DOE’s LLW disposal practices contain important elements of a risk-informed system. Highly Radioactive Low-Level Wastes In examining wastes legally defined as LLW, the committee in its interim report noted that “low-level” does not describe the quantity or concentration of radioactive materials in LLW, rather it is an artifact of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA).11 The NWPA defines LLW to include all AEA wastes that are not subject to another statutory waste definition. There is no upper boundary on the concentration of radioactivity in LLW. The regulations in 10 CFR Part 61 do, however, provide a system for classifying LLW based on the concentrations of radioactive materials present (Classes A, B, and C). Class B and Class C LLW can include reactor components, filters, ion exchange media, sludges, and radioactive sources 11 Similarly, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements noted, “The definition of low-level waste is particularly problematic. Contrary to the common meaning of ‘low-level’ … low-level waste can contain high concentrations of shorter-lived and longer-lived radionuclides similar to those in high-level waste. The definition … may foster mistrust by the public because the simple question of what low-level waste is cannot be given a direct answer” (NCRP, 2002, p. 16).
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes Sidebar 2.1 Use and Disposition of Radioactive Sources In the early 1900s, radioactive sources (particularly using radium) were introduced in industrial, medical, and research applications. In the middle of the century as man-made radioisotopes became increasingly available, the distribution and use of radioactive sources became widespread. Today radioactive sources are in use worldwide. Unfortunately, while the applications of these sources have expanded rapidly, until recently detailed planning has not been given to their eventual disposition. After a radioactive source has reached the end of its useful life, maintaining control of it or disposing of it are both expensive options since it is likely to still be highly radioactive. Often it is not clear when the source has truly become waste as opposed to simply being of no more use to the owner. Eventually, some of these sources end up being abandoned through one mechanism or another (e.g., controls are reduced and eventually terminated, records and chain of custody are lost or forgotten). Examples of radioactive sources that can produce serious radiation exposures or contamination events if abandoned include brachytherapy sources (137Cs, 192Ir), sources for well logging and mobile industrial radiography (137Cs, 192Ir, 60Co, 169Yb, 170Tm, 75Se), radiothermal generators (90Sr, 238Pu), moisture gauges and static electricity “preventers” (226Ra, 210Po), and neutron generators (241Am-Be). used in medicine and industry (discrete sources). By volume these wastes comprise only a small fraction of the LLW inventory while containing more than 90 percent of the radioactive material (see Chapter 3 of Appendix A). Control of Orphan Radioactive Sources National and international initiatives are in place to control, recover, and properly dispose of orphaned12 and no longer useful radioactive sources. Some of these sources can pose acute risks to the public and the environment (see Sidebar 2.1). In the United States, the Department of Energy operates the Off-Site Source Recovery Program (OSRP) to recover and store certain excess and unwanted radioactive sources that potentially pose threats to national 12 EPA uses the term “orphan” to refer to sources for which no owner can be identified.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes security. This program operates under the U.S. Radiological Threat Reduction Program of the National Nuclear Security Administration.13 This initiative is a key component of the DOE Global Threat Reduction Initiative created in May 2004. While the sources of major concern are those that represent a security threat within the United States, the program maintains, on an interim basis, its original concern only with sources that are greater-than-Class C (GTCC) in radionuclide content. The OSRP focuses on recovering 241Am, 238Pu, 239Pu, 252Cf, 244Cm, 137Cs, 90Sr, 60Co, 192Ir, and 226Ra sources. As of the end of fiscal year (FY) 2004, this program had recovered more than 10,500 sources from industrial sites, schools, universities, hospitals, and research institutions in almost every state.14 The program is now focusing on higher-risk sources of about 200 Ci or greater. The recovered sources are intended to be recycled for other uses if possible. Otherwise, they will be stored or eventually disposed. The OSRP began supporting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) source recovery efforts in FY 2005. The Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors (CRCPD) assists states in retrieving and disposing of radioactive sources through its Orphan Sources Initiative. Through this initiative, the CRCPD and EPA enlist the participation of states, the USNRC, and the DOE in developing a nationwide program for controlling orphan sources. In certain limited cases, the EPA and DOE, through CRCPD, provide funds to state radiation control programs for the disposition of radioactive sources when the owner cannot afford the costs of disposition or should not be held liable for those costs. The CRCPD also offers assistance in finding affordable, legal disposition mechanisms, identifies contacts with appropriate government agencies, identifies other entities that may have a use for the source, and supports the OSRP.15 While discrete sources have attracted attention based upon potentially adverse consequences of illegitimate use, their actual hazards depend upon the concentration and total quantity of their radioactive material, its decay properties, its chemical and physical form, and its container. Many radioactive sources pose little, if any, threat to human health or the environment if properly disposed (see Sidebar 2.2). Greater-than-Class C Low-Level Radioactive Waste LLW that contains concentrations of radioactive material that exceed USNRC Class C can include discrete sources, reactor components, and 13 See http://osrp.lanl.gov. 14 See http://osrp.lanl.gov. 15 See http://www.crcpd.org/orphans.asp.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes Sidebar 2.2 Risk-Informed Discrete Source Disposal In practice, practical determinations are characteristic of a risk-informed approach to regulating small, concentrated sources of radioactive material because the total amount of radioactive material, the concentration of the material, and the robustness of its disposal package are all considered as part of a risk-informed decision. Other aspects of a risk-informed decision-making process, such as political, economic, and stakeholder issues, also would enter into consideration. For example, the requirements for disposal at the LLW facility in Barnwell, South Carolina, include limiting the curie strength of the sources for short-lived radionuclides and encapsulation of discrete sources in concrete. The maximum quantity for 137Cs or 90Sr is 25 Ci in each encapsulation. Very concentrated sealed sources (e.g., 90Sr sources used in ophthalmology) may, on a curie-per-cubic-centimeter basis, be greater than Class C LLW. However, such sources can be disposed as LLW because their total curie content is small. The encapsulation concrete must be at least 4 inches thick with a minimum compressive strength of 2500 pounds per square inch. The containers are typically 30-gallon or 55-gallon steel drums. This scheme provides a more robust and predictable disposal package. Short-lived-radionuclide sealed sources can be mixed in the same encapsulation container up to a total of 25 Ci. Tritium gaseous sources must be packaged in a high-integrity container with each container limited to 1000 Ci. There is no specific curie limit on 60Co for classification; however, the limiting factor is the radiation limit on the package to meet transportation requirements. SOURCE: Personal communication from William B. House, Chem-Nuclear Systems, Barnwell, South Carolina to committee member Michael T. Ryan. contaminated equipment. In a notice published in the Federal Register on May 11, 2005, DOE announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the disposal of GTCC LLW, pursuant to the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985. DOE’s goal is to issue a Notice of Intent in mid-summer 2006, then complete the EIS within one and a half to two years. A progress report is due to Congress by August 8, 2006. The EIS is expected to evaluate the environmental impacts of disposal methods (e.g., enhanced near surface, greater confinement disposal, deep geologic repository) as well as locations for the disposal of the waste. DOE wastes with characteristics similar to GTCC
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes LLW that otherwise do not have a path to disposal may also be included in the scope of the EIS. Wastes Containing Uranium- or Thorium-Series Radionuclides In its interim report, the committee recognized that some of the large volumes of wastes containing uranium, thorium, and their progeny16 date back to the Manhattan Project, when uranium was first mined and processed for the nuclear weapons program. More recently these wastes have resulted from both defense and civilian nuclear uses of uranium (see Appendix A). Uranium mining wastes are excluded from the AEA, but waste from milling uranium ore for nuclear energy applications is federally controlled by the AEA, as amended by the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA). This means that the authorities of the USNRC, which are derived from the AEA, extend only to the mill tailings in a waste impoundment. States may have jurisdiction over the radioactive constituents in mining wastes, and the EPA may delegate its authority for the chemically hazardous constituents in mining wastes to states. Responsibility for the uranium milling wastes controlled by the AEA passed through several federal agencies until UMTRCA was enacted in 1978. UMTRCA facilities are subject to EPA’s standards in 40 CFR Part 192,17 which are implemented by USNRC’s regulations in 10 CFR Part 40. The USNRC’s regulations are also based in part on EPA’s RCRA hazardous waste standards. UMTRCA includes specific provisions for, among other things, radiation protection, radon mitigation, and long-term care and ownership by the DOE or the state in which the facility is located, with USNRC regulatory oversight of the long-term care. Because uranium, thorium, and their radioactive progeny exist naturally on Earth, they are also found in wastes from enterprises, including mineral recovery and water treatment, that are not subject to the AEA (see Table 3.2 of Appendix A). States have general regulatory authority to protect the health and safety of their populations, and regulating “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORM) and TENORM18 is one area in 16 “Progeny” are the isotopes that result from the radioactive decay of “parent” isotopes. Progeny of uranium and thorium are themselves radioactive (see Table 3.1 of Appendix A). 17 Standards for Cleanup of Land and Buildings Contaminated with Residual Radioactive Materials from Inactive Uranium Processing Sites, Subpart B of 40 CFR Part 192 (48 FR 590 to 606). 18 NORM that become more concentrated during mineral recovery or other operations are referred to as “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials” (TENORM). TENORM includes material that has been made more accessible to human contact and therefore more likely to cause exposures. Simply for convenience this report frequently uses the acronym NORM to include NORM and TENORM wastes (see also Sidebar 3.2 of Appendix A).
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes which some states have developed more detailed rules and regulations than others in asserting this authority. EPA has authority to regulate NORM under several statutes, including the Clean Air Act; the Toxic Substances Control Act; CERCLA; and RCRA (see Sidebar 2.3). Generally speaking, NORM wastes have received little public attention although they are a significant contributor to background exposure in the United States (NRC, 1999). Management of NORM may be less controlled relative to some AEA LAW. Generators of significant amounts of these wastes include coal-burning power plants, oil and natural gas production, and water treatment plants. Eventually, risk-informed regulations may lead the states and federal agencies to require all such industries to characterize these materials by their radioactivity content and dispose them in an approved fashion, with radioactive materials content being one factor taken into account. The CRCPD has taken a significant step toward a regulatory framework for NORM wastes by developing suggested state regulations for these wastes and a guide to implementing the regulations.19 Wastes from the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) On legal grounds, the USNRC determined that it has no authority over uranium milling wastes at sites that were not licensed by the commission before UMTRCA was enacted.20 Pre-UMTRCA wastes that are not subject to federal regulation under the AEA are subject to regulation under state authorities. Thus, essentially identical wastes are or are not subject to USNRC control depending only on when they were generated. The formerly utilized sites remedial action program is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers (see Sidebar 3.1 of Appendix A). FUSRAP wastes amount to 1 to 2 million cubic meters of material—mainly soils containing uranium, thorium, and their progeny. Concentrations range from background (1-3 pCi/g) to approximately 10 times average background values. These wastes are excavated and shipped for disposal. The Corps estimates that some 80 percent of the wastes are pre-UMTRCA, with 20 percent being post-UMTRCA. Absent regulation by the USNRC, the states can, and some do, exercise control over the pre-UMTRCA waste. This has led to instances of inconsistent control that increase costs of FUSRAP cleanups, require transporting large amounts of very slightly contaminated wastes over long distances, and cause friction between 19 See http://crcpd.org/SSRCRs/TOC_8-2001.htm. 20 Except for wastes at Title I sites licensed by the USNRC after cleanup by DOE. Title I of UMTRCA provides that USNRC license these pre-UMTRCA sites after DOE has disposed of the tailings on them in accordance with EPA’s standards at 40 CFR Part 192.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes and nonradiological risks associated with many non-11e.(2) byproduct material waste streams. Federal Control of Discrete TENORM Sources In early 2005, the Health Physics Society and the Organization of Agreement States proposed congressional action to put concentrated (“discrete”) TENORM sources—especially radium sources—and radioactive materials from particle accelerator operations under the AEA. These groups recognize that consistent, uniform regulation of all radioactive materials is needed, especially for sources that present significant radiation hazards and could potentially be used as “dirty bomb” material.23 Uniform federal regulation of accelerator-produced radionuclides was also sought by the radiopharmaceutical industry. The USNRC included a similar proposal in a suggested draft bill to amend the AEA. The transmittal letter to the Senate listed 11 objectives for the proposed legislation, one of which is “augmentation of the Commission’s regulatory authority to protect the public health and safety and promote the common defense and security with respect to radioactive materials by including accelerator-produced and certain other radioactive material under its jurisdiction” (Diaz, 2005a, p. 1). The proposed bill sought to achieve this objective by revising the definition of byproduct material that is subject to the USNRC’s AEA jurisdiction. As this report was being finalized for review, the proposed legislation was incorporated into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was enacted on August 8, 2005.24 The act imposes an aggressive schedule for the USNRC to issue final regulations by February 7, 2007. Although work on these regulations, including the definition of the term “discrete source,” is only beginning, it seems clear that placing these materials under the AEA is an important step toward making their control more uniform and consistent with their actual radiological properties and risks. INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVES In moving toward more consistent, risk-informed management of LAW in the United States, the committee sees opportunities for greater exchange of ideas with the international community. Such exchanges could mutually enhance the knowledge of those responsible for LAW and their credibility within each country. 23 See http://www.hps.org/documents/MaterialControl.pdf. 24 See http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/energy_pdfs_2.htm.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes FIGURE 2.1 The Morvilliers, France, site (foreground) is the world’s first facility designed especially for disposing of very low activity radioactive wastes. Low-and intermediate-activity short-lived wastes are disposed of at the Centre de l’Aube (background). These facilities are located about 250 kilometers east of Paris. Photo courtesy of P. Bourguignon, Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchlets radioactifs (ANDRA), France. France recently opened a disposal facility for large volumes of very low activity wastes at Morvilliers (see Figure 2.1, foreground). This facility is physically separate from the nearby Centre de l’Aube facility (see Figure 2.1, background), which is designed for the relatively smaller volumes of wastes that are more typical of the USNRC Class A, B, and C wastes. The disposal trenches at Morvilliers are similar to EPA hazardous waste landfills, including a trench cap, liner, and leachate collection system. Spain has recently begun operating special disposal cells for very low activity wastes at its El Cabril facility. The cells are constructed according to hazardous waste requirements (Zuloaga, 2003). Japan has special regulations for very low level waste from its nuclear industry and is considering regulations for other types of LAW (Hirusawa, 2004). In parallel with these considerations, a risk-informed system is recommended by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan as an attempt to establish a unified framework for all types of radioactive wastes (NSC, 2004).
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes The international community has made significant progress toward establishing a consistent risk-based framework for managing radioactive wastes. As described below, the framework rests on dose-based standards developed by the IAEA and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) to protect workers and the public from ionizing radiation. These standards are incorporated in the European Commission’s directive 96/29 (EC, 1996a), which ensures consistency in protecting the public and workers from potential exposures to radiation, including those associated with waste management, in the European Union’s 25 member countries (see also Appendix B). Standards for Radiation Protection The International Basic Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources (BSS) promulgated by the IAEA are a worldwide reference for protection from radiation (IAEA, 1996). Key concepts in the BSS include Exclusion from regulation of exposures that are not amenable to control, for example exposure from 40K in the body, cosmic radiation, and unmodified concentrations of radionuclides that are present in most raw materials; Exemption of practices or materials resulting from those practices that do not require radiation protection and therefore never enter the regulatory system; and Clearance of slightly radioactive materials, which allows them to be removed from regulatory control. Practices that might produce radiation exposures must be justified, and further, they must be optimized to ensure that radiation exposures are kept as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA)—this is the same principle used by the USNRC and DOE in their regulations and orders. The BSS recommends that effective doses incurred from normal practices involving radioactive substances not exceed 20 millisieverts (mSv)/year (averaged over five years and not exceeding 50 mSv in a single year) for the worker, and 1 mSv for the relevant critical groups of the public.25 The BSS also provides the basis for international control of radioactive sources, which present a growing security concern worldwide (see Sidebar 2.4). 25 See Sidebar 3.1 for an explanation of these dose units. U.S. standards are substantially the same as the BSS, although numerical differences between some USNRC and EPA standards continue to be the subject of discussion between these agencies and among public stakeholders.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes Sidebar 2.4 International Initiatives for Controlling Radioactive Sources Even before the events of September 11, 2001, there was international recognition of the hazards presented by the lack of control of radioactive sources. Serious accidents, such as the 137Cs contamination in Goiania, Brazil, in 1987 (IAEA, 1988), had demonstrated just how deadly such sources could become. In 1996, the IAEA and five other international organizations issued the BSS that established general requirements for the safety and security of radioactive sources (IAEA, 1996). In 1998 at the International Conference on the Safety of Radiation Sources and the Security of Radioactive Materials, a basis for a coordinated international approach to the safety of such sources was established. This was followed by conferences in 2000, 2001, 2003 (with post-9/11 emphasis), and June 2005 (IAEA, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003a, 2005b). These conferences focused on the security of sources, the responsibilities of senior regulators in dealing with these matters, sustainable infrastructures for the control of radioactive sources, and methods for identifying, locating, and decommissioning orphaned sources. The IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (IAEA, 2004a) and Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources (IAEA, 2005a) represent the culmination of these and similar efforts to provide guidance on how IAEA member countries can safely and securely manage radioactive sources that pose significant risk. The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 uses the IAEA Code of Conduct’s categorization of radiation sources (Conference Report on H.R. 6, section 170H). Publication 81 of the ICRP provides guidance for controlling potential long-term exposures from waste disposal (ICRP, 1998). Recognizing that potential doses to future populations from waste disposal can only be estimated, ICRP recommends control by “constrained optimization” rather than by imposing specific dose limits. Optimization, according to ICRP 81, is a judgmental process with social and economic factors being taken into account, which should be carried out in a structured but essentially qualitative way. For waste disposal, constrained optimization includes meeting a dose constraint during normal operation of the disposal facility, reducing the likelihood or the consequences of inadvertent human intrusion, and using sound engineering and management practices in implementing disposal. Regarding the dose constraint, ICRP recommends that estimates of doses to future populations not exceed 0.3 mSv under normal conditions
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes (consistent with the BSS limit of 1 mSv, but considering possible exposures from other nuclear applications). In addition to dose constraint in the normal long-term performance of the disposal facility, ICRP recommends referring to two values of dose incurred in case of inadvertent intrusion into the disposal site: 10 and 100 mSv. According to ICRP, intervention to reduce radiation exposure is seldom required below 10 mSv and almost always required for doses above 100 mSv. Most countries use dose constraint rather than risk constraint in their national regulations. Even in Sweden and the United Kingdom, where the standard is expressed in terms of risk, the actual regulation is expressed in terms of dose. ICRP recognizes that instead of using dose constraints, similar levels of protection can be achieved by using a risk-based approach (integrating dose estimates with probability, see Chapter 3). The 0.3 mSv per year constraint for waste disposal optimization in ICRP 81 is only a factor of 2-3 above the EPA risk criterion of 10−4 lifetime risk. ICRP also recognizes a two-pronged dose-probability approach in which the likelihood of exposure and the dose estimates are evaluated separately. ICRP considers that the latter approach allows obtaining more information for purposes of decision making. European Commission directive 96/29 enforces the IAEA and ICRP recommendations on justification of practices, exemption, optimization, and dose constraint. The directive covers all activities involving radioactive material. It also addresses the possibility of enhanced exposure to natural radiation resulting from nonnuclear activities. Through its consistency with the IAEA and ICRP standards, the European Union has taken a major step toward establishing a unified system for radiation protection that covers waste management, including the disposal of waste originating from nuclear as well as nonnuclear industry. Detailed aspects remain to be worked out, some of which are noted in Appendix B. IAEA Waste Classification In 1994 the IAEA recommended an international waste classification system that generally reflects the radiological characteristics of wastes rather than their origins (IAEA, 1994). The basic classification system does not distinguish between radioactive wastes from the nuclear fuel cycle and from non-fuel-cycle wastes, such as NORM. For example, high-level waste (HLW) in the IAEA system includes all wastes with radioactivity levels similar to wastes from nuclear fuel reprocessing (see Table 2.2). As noted previously, the origin-based U.S. definition of HLW includes only fuel reprocessing wastes—leaving non-reprocessing wastes that are highly radioactive to be classified as “greater-than-Class C low-level waste.” Concentrations of shorter-lived radionuclides in low- and intermediate-
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes TABLE 2.2 IAEA Waste Classification System Waste Classes Typical Characteristics Disposal Options 1. Exempt Waste (EW) Activity levels at or below clearance levels given in IAEA (2004b), which are based on an annual dose to members of the public of less than 0.01 mSv No radiological restrictions 2. Low- and intermediate-level waste (LILW) Activity levels above clearance levels and thermal power below about 2 kW/m3 2.1 Short-lived waste Restricted long-lived radionuclide (LILW-SL) concentrations (the long-lived alpha-emitting radionuclide concentration in individual waste packages is limited to 4000 Bq/g, with the overall average for all packages limited to 400 Bq/g) Near-surfacea or geological disposalb facility 2.2 Long-lived waste (LILW-LL) Long-lived radionuclide concentrations exceeding limitations for short-lived waste Geological disposal facility 3. High-level waste (HLW) Thermal power above about 2 kW/m3 and long-lived radionuclide concentrations exceeding limitations for short-lived waste Geological disposal facility aIAEA (2003b). bIAEA (2003c). SOURCE: IAEA (1994). level wastes are limited by the amount of decay heat they generate (thermal power density). There is no such restriction on U.S. LLW (i.e., the NWPA provides no upper limit on its definition of LLW). Significantly, the IAEA system includes classes of materials that can be exempted from radiological controls or can be released (cleared) for disposal without radiological restrictions. A dose-based standard is used to determine materials that can be cleared or exempted. International regulations are converging on a value of 1 mSv of added annual dose to the public as an appropriate limit for normal exposures arising from applications of radioactive materials, including waste management practices. The USNRC and DOE also use 1 mSv per year as the
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes limit for doses to the public (DOE, 2005). There remain significant differences in applying ALARA among countries, ranging from a technological approach of designing as effective a confinement system as possible to a fully integrated risk-based probabilistic approach. Whatever approach to ALARA is taken, what constitutes “reasonable” may differ based upon the perceptions of the various stakeholders and concerned parties. Resolution of these differences requires genuine participation of divergent view holders in the decision-making process. THE CURRENT U.S. DISPOSAL SITUATION AND POST-2008 ISSUES The committee’s interim report noted that no new LLW disposal sites have been developed by the states or interstate compacts as intended by Congress in the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980. The nation’s only facilities licensed to dispose of LLW are located near Barnwell, South Carolina; Clive, Utah; and Richland, Washington. These sites were established and continue to be operated by private-sector companies,26 subject to laws and requirements of their host state (all host states are USNRC Agreement States) and the state’s regional compact. Two sites currently accept wastes from generators nationwide—the South Carolina site is licensed to accept all classes of LLW (USNRC Classes A, B, and C), and the Utah site is licensed to accept only Class A wastes. The Washington site accepts all classes of LLW, but only from states that are members of the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Compacts.27 At the beginning of 2005, WCS, a private company seeking to develop a new disposal facility near Andrews, Texas, applied to that state for a Class A, B, and C license. The license application is under regulatory review and could be granted by 2007 if the review process proceeds without an interruption or delay in schedule (Jablonski, 2004). In 2001, South Carolina enacted legislation to close the Barnwell site in 2008 to states outside the Atlantic Compact.28 This action could leave generators in more than 30 states without access to disposal for their Class B and C wastes and dependent on the Utah site for disposal of their 26 Chem-Nuclear Services/Duratek operates the Barnwell site; Envirocare of Utah operates the Clive site; and U.S. Ecology operates the Richland site. On February 3, 2006, while this report was in press, a new company, EnergySolutions, was formed by Envirocare and two other companies. On February 7, 2006, EnergySolutions signed an agreement to acquire Duratek. 27 The state compacts and their members are listed in Table 2.1 of Appendix A. 28 The Atlantic Compact consists of Connecticut, New Jersey, and South Carolina.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes Class A wastes. Some view this as a serious consequence of the failure of the states and state compacts to develop even one new disposal facility (Leroy, 2004; Meserve, 2005; Pasternak, 2003). Others, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the LLW Forum,29 note that there is abundant capacity for Class A waste and the relatively small volumes of Class B and C wastes could be stored by their generators, if necessary (GAO, 2004). In a recently issued policy position, the LLW Forum stated, “There is not an immediate crisis. The current national waste management system affords flexibility to make adjustments as conditions across the country change; however, it is important to continue working to meet all current and future disposal needs” (LLW Forum, 2005, p. 3). According to Manifest Information Management System (MIMS) data, the volume of commercially disposed Class B and C wastes has remained nearly constant at just under 900 m3 per year for the past 10 years.30 States that may lose access to disposal after 2008 produce around two-thirds of this total, or around 600 m3/year. About 90 percent of these Class B and C wastes come from nuclear utilities, while the remainder come from medical and other non-utility sources. By contrast, total Class A waste disposals averaged more than 64,000 m3 per year during the same period but contained well under 1 percent of the curies disposed. The GAO and LLW Forum report that generators could store their small volumes of Class B and C wastes on-site indefinitely in the worst case. While they acknowledge this in not an optimum solution, they believe that it does not pose a health and safety risk as evidenced by the fact that many of these same utility and non-utility generators store spent nuclear fuel and GTCC sources. Many medical wastes that are highly radioactive have short half-lives and are routinely stored for decay on-site (NRC, 2001a). Significantly, the GAO received essentially no responses to a questionnaire sent to several thousand radiation control officers asking for their concerns about future access to LLW disposal facilities. This lack of concern seems to mirror the lack of concern when South Carolina left the Southeast Compact in 1995. That action opened the Barnwell site to every state except North Carolina, arguably a violation of the interstate com- 29 The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum (LLW Forum) represents the interstate compacts, states that are designated by a compact to host—or that currently host—a commercial LLW disposal facility, and unaffiliated states. Voting members of the Board of Directors are appointed by governors or compact commissions and are authorized to speak for their states and compacts with regard to LLW policy. See http://www.llwforum.org/. 30 The MIMS database is maintained by DOE to monitor the management of commercial LLW in the United States. See http://mims.apps.em.doe.gov/.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes merce clause of the constitution. No generator, including nuclear power utilities, fuel fabrication facilities, or other entities within North Carolina, sought relief. The committee agrees that the post-2008 situation should be watched closely, but does not perceive an impending crisis. The limited number of disposal options for LLW appears to be an undesirable situation, both in terms of ensured access and market economics. The committee encourages efforts, such as the EPA’s ANPR, to expand the disposal options for very large volume, very low activity Class A wastes (see Chapter 4 and Recommendation 1 in Chapter 5). The committee foresees a number of possibilities that could avoid a post-2008 crisis for Class B and C wastes. First of all, South Carolina might rescind its decision to close Barnwell to states outside the Atlantic Compact. As of 2004, the Barnwell site has approximately 76,500 m3 of its capacity remaining (GAO, 2004).31 It is also possible that the Andrews, Texas, site may be licensed to begin receiving Classes A, B, and C wastes in the 2008 time frame. While it would be licensed under provisions of the Texas Compact, which includes only Texas and Vermont, the Texas Compact provides a discretionary option for the compact commission to contract for the disposal of waste from outside the compact (LLW Forum, 2005). Lastly, if a generator were in a crisis situation because of lack of access to disposal, the generator could seek relief through USNRC action under 10 CFR Part 62, which provides criteria and procedures for emergency access to nonfederal LLW disposal facilities. All of these contingences indicate that there are options and possibilities for continued access to disposal. CONCLUSIONS The committee is not alone in recognizing the need for improving LAW practices. The initiatives described in this chapter—by regulatory authorities, professional and trade organizations, and Congress—consider the actual risks posed by a waste material rather than perpetuating origin-based controls. The described initiatives would Increase options for disposing of very slightly contaminated wastes, which comprise the overwhelming volume of LAW; Recognize the similarity of wastes that contain naturally occurring uranium- or thorium-series radionuclides; and 31 This would provide approximately 80 years’ worth of disposal capacity for B and C wastes at the MIMS-reported disposal rate of around 900 m3 per year.
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Improving the Regulation and Management of Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes Impose consistent federal control of concentrated radioactive materials that were previously not included in the AEA. Authorities outside of the United States generally base their regulations on the radiation doses that might result from LAW disposal, rather than regulating according to origin. International standards provide dose-based exemption or clearance of very low activity wastes from control as radioactive materials. Several countries have special provisions for disposing of LAW that cannot be cleared from controls, but pose little radiation risk. While there are differences among countries, there is reasonable consistency in their approaches for managing and disposing of LAW, and the categories of waste accepted in surface or near-surface facilities are fairly comparable. The committee judges that U.S. regulatory agencies and other organizations have made important initiatives toward improving the current system and that there is clearly a need to do so. However, there is no pending crisis in disposal capacity, access to disposal, safety, or any other area that would require a complete near-term overhaul of the system. In the absence of such impetus, there is little will among policy makers to engage in radioactive waste issues, which are certain to encounter opposition—as described in the next chapter. The committee therefore concluded that initiatives such as those discussed in this chapter are the most realistic options for improvements. Unfortunately, some of these initiatives are faltering. Better coordination and mutual support among agencies and organizations responsible for LAW, including exchange of international expertise, will be necessary to make progress.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: