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Research Council to study the feasibility of disposing of low level, packaged, radioactive wastes into the on-shore waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. The areas of special interest are closer to shore than the present designated areas now 100 and more miles out. The objectives of the study are to recommend locations that can be used safely as disposal areas, together with the limitations on quan- tity and kinds of radioactive materials, rates of disposal, and other pertinent factors necessary to keep the concentration of radioactive substances within permissible levels. Of special interest is the use of near-shore regions as disposal areas for the low level radioactive wastes generated in university and industrial laboratories, hospitals, and research institutions licensed by AEC to use relatively small quantities of radioactive materials. We emphasize here the term low level wastes. These are broadly classified as wastes containing up to the equivalent of millicurie quan- tities of activity per gallon. They are distinct from high level wastes, such as those obtained from the processing of spent reactor fuels which may contain hundreds of curies per gallon. The present study is not concerned with the disposal of high level wastes. PRESENT SEA DISPOSAL PRACTICES With the increasing quantities of radioactive materials that have been used in peacetime applications by both AEC and non-AEC institu- tions there has been a corresponding increase in the quantities of low level wastes that have no further usefulness, but because they do repre- sent a potential health hazard cannot be disposed of by conventional methods (municipal incinerators, sanitary dumps, etc.). In the past, much of this waste material has been packaged and dumped into desig- nated areas approximately 200 miles off the Atlantic Coast in approxi- mately 1000 fathoms of water. Much of the material has been carried to the disposal areas by naval vessels during scheduled disposal of non-radioactive wastes. In addition, civilian waste disposal concerns, licensed by the AEC, have dumped small quantities of low level wastes into coastal waters in areas normally used as receiving areas for non- radioactive wastes. Recently AEC received several new requests for the licensing of civilian marine disposal concerns. Table I and figure 1 summarize the sea disposal operations that have been conducted along the Atlantic Coast from 1951 thru 1957. (1) It should be emphasized that the quantities of activity listed were not measured at the time of disposal to the sea. At best, they were meas- ured at the time of packaging of the wastes, and frequently the values reported are estimates made by the users of the material who listed the total amount of activity shipped to them, with no allowance made for losses during use and for radioactive decay. The quantities listed are therefore, unquestionably, larger than the quantities actually depos- ited in the disposal areas.
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TABLE I PAST AND PROJECTED AMOUNTS OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS DISPOSED IN ATLANTIC OCEAN Origin AEC wastes (U. S. Navy Disposal) Government agencies, non-AEC (U. S. Navy and Coast Guard Disposal) University and industrial labs. (Private Disposal) Quantity (curies) Estimated 1951-1957 1958-1963 Location (Fig. 1) 5,870 4.3 10+ 531.9 25+ a, b , c d, e, f and unlettered Data from reference (1) •or | FIGURE I LOCATIONS AND APPROXIMATE QUANTITIES OF RADIOACTIVE WASTES DEPOSITED ON THE SEA BOTTOM DURING THE PERIOD 1951 TO 1956 UNLETTERED AREAS HAVE RECEIVED APPROXIMATELY ZS CURIES <7\\ i
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These disposal operations can be divided into three broad sub- divisions, using the immediate source of the wastes as a criterion. They are: 1. Low level wastes generated within AEG facilities. These constitute, by far, the largest quantities of radioactive materials that have been deposited in the Atlantic disposal areas. Since 1951, 5870 curies of a variety of isotopes contained in 8432 fifty-five gallon drums have been disposed of. A rather insignificant fraction of this total was deposited in the designated area approximately ZOO miles due east of Cape Cod, area a, figure 1. Most of it has been added to the disposal area approximately 200 miles east of Cape May (Delaware Bay), area b, figure 1. The AEC has described the general nature of these wastes as follows (1): "AEC wastes which are dumped at sea are heterogeneous in character and as a rule contain quantities of activity normally associated with laboratory experimentation and with decontamination operations. For the most part, they consist of solid materials such as paper wipes, rags, mops, ashes, animal carcasses and contaminated laboratory para- phernalia. Some liquids containing radioactivity in the con- centration range of microcuries per liter have been incor- porated in cement mixtures or with chemical gelling mate- rials prior to packaging and dumping. Because the wastes and their contaminating radioisotopes are heterogeneous in character, it is difficult to determine accurately the total quantities of radioactivity involved." Most of these wastes have been packaged in fifty-five gallon drums with added concrete to insure proper bulk density. The AEC has set specifications (1) (2) for the packaging and handling of contaminated scrap. 2. Low level wastes generated within government operations other than AEC. " " Four agencies (the National Bureau of Standards, the Naval Ordinance Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the National Institutes of Health) all in the Washington, B.C. area, have since 1955 generated approximately four curies of heterogeneous wastes that have been deposited in a designated disposal area, approximately 75 miles east southeast of Cape Henry (Cheasapeake Bay), by the U.S. Coast Guard. This is area^, figure 1. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Beaufort, N.C., has disposed of less than 0.2 of a curie of heterogeneous wastes, in area d, figure 1, approximately 8 miles off-shore from Beaufort, North Carolina.
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3. Low level radioactive wastes generated within private facilities. Several industrial concerns and research laboratories licensed by AEC to use radioactive materials have either conducted their own waste disposal operations or have contracted with licensed marine disposal companies to have the wastes carried to sea. The areas in which low level radioactive wastes have been dumped at sea by these operations are the unlettered areas in figure 1. Approximately 25 curies have been disposed of through these channels, most of it several hundred miles off shore. In all, something less than 6000 curies were added to the water off the Atlantic coast of the U.S. between 1951 and 1958. The exact composition of this waste material is uncertain; that is, it is impossible to determine the quantities of various radioisotopes, and in many cases the total activity associated with a disposal container is uncertain. By far the greatest bulk of this material has been deposited into water 1000 fathoms or more deep, and in containers that will provide some factor of safety to the environment, in that at least a part of the wastes will have disappeared by natural radioactive decay before being released to the sea. A survey of the area that has received most of the wastes, area b, figure 1, was made by the Chesapeake Bay Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The activ- ity, beta and gamma counting, of samples of bottom sediments taken within the disposal area was compared to the analysis of samples taken outside of the area. No difference could be found. Comments on survey methods will be made in a later section. The quantity of low level radioactive wastes that will, under ex- isting operational procedures, find its way into the Atlantic coastal waters is increasing. The off-shore, deep water disposal areas appear to be adequate to handle projected quantities of these wastes without limiting our other uses of these waters. Of immediate concern to the AEC is the increase in the quantities of radioactive materials used by non-governmental agencies and the increase in the numbers of com- mercial marine disposal concerns who are seeking licenses to handle and dispose of the low level radioactive wastes into shallow coastal areas. In general, marine disposal concerns are at present not equipped to carry the wastes several hundred miles to sea, at least not without a considerable increase in the cost of the service. The disposal con- cerns would like to deposit these wastes in existing or newly designated disposal areas in the relatively shallow coastal waters up to approxi- mately fifty miles from shore. One concern has, with AEC permission, disposed of limited quantities of packaged low level wastes in 50 fathoms of water, some twelve to fifteen miles from the coast, area e, figure 1.