Sidebar 1.2
Interim Report’s Overview of Inconsistencies in Low-Activity Waste Regulations Versus Radiological Hazards

Wastes that fall within the legal definition of low-level waste (LLW) can have very different radiological properties:

  1. Much LLW fits within the regulatory Classes A, B, and C.

  2. However, large volumes of wastes from decommissioning and site cleanup often contain practically no radioactive material, but they cannot exit the regulatory system because Class A has no lower boundary.

  3. Although defined as LLW, out-of-service radioactive sources can pose an acute exposure hazard, particularly if mishandled.

Other wastes that fall under different legal definitions can have very similar radiological properties:

  1. Uranium and thorium mining and milling wastes are under federal control according to the AEA.

  2. Wastes from the recovery of other natural resources or processes such as municipal water treatment can also contain uranium, thorium, and their progeny, but they are controlled by the individual states.

Although they are all legally defined as LLW, the wastes that comprised the committee’s first three categories have very different radiological and physical characteristics. First of all, there are the wastes that fit appropriately into the USNRC classification system (e.g., Classes A, B, and C), such as those disposed at Barnwell (Chem-Nuclear/Duratek Disposal Systems), Hanford Washington (US Ecology), certain Class A wastes disposed at Clive Utah (Envirocare of Utah),4 and wastes in typical DOE “burial grounds.”

Second, there are the very large volumes of debris, rubble, and contaminated soils from DOE and commercial nuclear facility decommissioning and site cleanup that produce very low levels of radiation. They fall at the very low end of Class A but cannot exit the nuclear regulatory system5 because the statutory definition of LLW has no lower boundary.

4  

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.

5  

Except by case-by-case exemptions discussed in Chapter 2.



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