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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