Appendix A: Interim Report

Issues and Findings

As described in Chapters 2 and 3, low-activity wastes are regulated primarily on the basis of their origin (national defense, nuclear power, resource recovery) under a patchwork of federal and state statutes put into place over a period of almost six decades. The current system for regulating this waste lacks overall consistency and, as a consequence, waste streams having similar physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics may be regulated by different authorities and managed in disparate ways. These disparities have health, safety, and cost implications, and they may undermine public confidence in regulatory agencies.

Table 4.1 summarizes the committee’s overview of the radiological hazards associated with low-activity waste and the current regulations that address the hazards. The first three waste categories shown on the table (low-level waste; slightly radioactive solid materials; and discrete radioactive sources) are governed by section 11e.(1) of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). They meet the Nuclear Waste Policy Act’s exclusionary definition of low-level waste (LLW) (see Chapter 2). In the commercial sector, waste is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) under 10 CFR Part 61. At Department of Energy (DOE) sites the same types of waste are controlled by DOE Order 435.1.

Radiological hazards in these first three waste categories vary greatly, however, and these differences are not adequately recognized by the broad statutory definitions of LLW. Even the USNRC’s classification system for LLW (e.g., USNRC Classes A, B, and C) does not completely address these differences. At the low end, radioactivity in the very large volumes of debris, rubble, and soil is so low it is often difficult to measure.

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