The effort of the state of California to site a LLRW disposal facility, as with other states across the country, has its origins in the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980. This bill gave to the states the responsibility of disposing and managing their commercial LLRW. The 1985 amendment to that act set milestones and incentives for developing such facilities, with penalties if progress and goals were not achieved.
The need for LLRW legislation arose when the last three LLRW disposal facilities operating for commercial wastes decided in the late 1970's that they would no longer continue to accept radioactive waste from the entire country. Hanford, Washington and Barnwell, South Carolina experienced difficulties with corrosion and leaks of waste packages before the 1980 federal act and subsequent regulations governed such activity. As the number of on-line nuclear power plants was increasing, and the use of radioisotopes in medical research and treatment kept growing, the need for disposal capacity for the wastes resulting from these activities, and the need for regulations to protect the health and safety of the public, became more pressing. Nevada closed the Beatty site to low-level waste at the end of 1992. As of July 1, 1994, the two remaining disposal sites were closed to states outside their regional compacts. At present such states, including California, are maintaining their wastes in temporary storage facilities, usually at the locality where the waste is generated, such as university research centers, hospitals, and nuclear power plants.
The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act allowed each state to decide if it would proceed alone or join a group of states in its region to share a facility in fulfilling their responsibilities for providing disposal capacity for non-government LLRW generated within their borders. The regional groups of site-sharing states are called compacts and, under acceptable conditions, are approved by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC)1 upon application. There are ten such compacts, two of which have some member states not within their geographic region, and several unaffiliated states that chose independent paths. California, a major generator of radioactive wastes by virtue of its nuclear power plants, of which two are now in operation, and its many university research and medical facilities, formed the Southwest Compact with Arizona, and North and South Dakota. California was designated the host state, responsible for building the first LLRW facility for the compact.