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Introduction

In 1995 the New York State Legislature voted to end the activities of the New York State Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission (referred to throughout this report as the “Siting Commission,” or “commission”). The Siting Commission had been in existence for eight years, and it had the primary responsibility for identifying a site and technology for disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) within New York State (see Box 1.1). Over the course of its history, the Siting Commission evolved from an obscure public body that held sparsely attended meetings to the focal point of fervent public protests that involved hundreds of citizens. Through September 1995, New York had expended about $55.2 million on regulation development and siting activities (Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum, 1996).

Between 1988 and 1989, the Siting Commission attempted to carry out its mandate to identify licensable LLRW disposal sites. The process was set forth in state and federal laws; prescribed by state and federal regulations; and engaged a broad range of agencies, local governments, consultants, and private citizens. The Siting Commission was directed to consider the impacts on public health and safety; the nature of probable impacts on the environment, local economies, and governments; the adequacy of transportation routes; population densities surrounding the sites; and the ability to recover wastes at a later date.

The Siting Commission developed a statewide screening process based on an analysis of land use patterns, surface and ground water hydrology, geologic properties, demographic issues, and socioeconomic concerns. The objective was to exclude those regions precluded by law or regulations and then use a stepwise technical screening process to identify sites for detailed characterization. In the first of these tasks, the Siting Commission worked with little or no public interest. As the commission’s work shifted from exclusion to site identification, however, its goals and methods became more controversial. The exclusionary phase was completed by September 1988 and resulted in the



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--> 1 Introduction In 1995 the New York State Legislature voted to end the activities of the New York State Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission (referred to throughout this report as the “Siting Commission,” or “commission”). The Siting Commission had been in existence for eight years, and it had the primary responsibility for identifying a site and technology for disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) within New York State (see Box 1.1). Over the course of its history, the Siting Commission evolved from an obscure public body that held sparsely attended meetings to the focal point of fervent public protests that involved hundreds of citizens. Through September 1995, New York had expended about $55.2 million on regulation development and siting activities (Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum, 1996). Between 1988 and 1989, the Siting Commission attempted to carry out its mandate to identify licensable LLRW disposal sites. The process was set forth in state and federal laws; prescribed by state and federal regulations; and engaged a broad range of agencies, local governments, consultants, and private citizens. The Siting Commission was directed to consider the impacts on public health and safety; the nature of probable impacts on the environment, local economies, and governments; the adequacy of transportation routes; population densities surrounding the sites; and the ability to recover wastes at a later date. The Siting Commission developed a statewide screening process based on an analysis of land use patterns, surface and ground water hydrology, geologic properties, demographic issues, and socioeconomic concerns. The objective was to exclude those regions precluded by law or regulations and then use a stepwise technical screening process to identify sites for detailed characterization. In the first of these tasks, the Siting Commission worked with little or no public interest. As the commission’s work shifted from exclusion to site identification, however, its goals and methods became more controversial. The exclusionary phase was completed by September 1988 and resulted in the

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--> elimination of about 30 percent of the state from further consideration. By September 1989, the Siting Commission had identified five potential disposal sites in two different counties. The area of these sites totaled 3,896 acres, or approximately 0.01 percent of the land area of New York State. In early 1990 the governor of New York suspended the Siting Commission's activities. At that time, intense public protests had disrupted the commission's work and prevented it from carrying out detailed evaluations of the five potential disposal sites it had identified previously. This aspect of New York State's experience was comparable to experiences throughout the nation. Because of widespread public concern regarding radioactive waste disposal, no new LLRW disposal sites have been opened in the United States, even though federal law required all regional compacts and noncompact states to have developed such capabilities by January 1, 1993 (see Chapter 2).1 In response to public pressure, the New York State Legislature amended the act that created the Siting Commission and the framework for identifying and licensing disposal sites. The new legislation mandated broad changes to the structure and procedures of the Siting Commission and significantly enhanced the opportunities for public participation in the siting process. The amended act also called for the creation of an independent technical and scientific panel to review the Siting Commission's work. Specifically, the amended act directed that . . . the department of health shall arrange to have one or more independent panels of technical and scientific experts review and evaluate the commission's decisions and report on its selection of a tentative preferred disposal method and decisions and report on lands excluded from consideration for siting permanent disposal facilities. . . . (L. 1990, C. 913, §3, amending New York State Environmental Conservation Law [ECL] Art. 29, §29-0303.11) 1   The Ward Valley site in California has received a license for low-level waste disposal, but construction of the facility awaits the transfer of land from the U.S. Department of the Interior to the State of California.

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--> BOX 1.1 New York State's LLRW—What is it and how much is there? A good general description of low-level radioactive waste is given in the Nuclear Waste Primer (League of Women Voters, 1993), which notes that LLRW is a catchall category defined by what it is not rather than by what it is. [LLRW] includes all radioactive waste other than uranium mill tailings, transuranic waste, and high-level waste, including spent nuclear fuel. While most low-level waste is relatively short-lived and has low levels of radioactivity, some presents a greater radiation hazard. . . . The Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies low-level waste into four groups according to the degree of hazard it poses and, consequently, the type of management and disposal it requires. Low-level waste that can be disposed of by shallow land burial is classified as A, B, or C, from least to most hazardous. States are responsible for the disposal of class A, B, and C waste. See Appendix G of the present report for more detailed definitions of the classes of LLRW. As projected in the Siting Commission's 1994 Source Term Report Executive Summary, the LLRW disposal facility to be built in New York must isolate an estimated 4.3 million cubic feet (approximately 120,000 cubic meters) of LLRW—enough LLRW to fill a football field to a depth of about 75 feet (approximately 23 meters). By volume, the state's LLRW is projected to consist of 98% Class A waste, 1% Class B waste, and 1% Class C waste. By activity (the rate at which a radioactive material emits radiation), the composition of the wastes is expected to be 8% Class A, 18% Class B, and 74% Class C. According to the estimate, about 97% of the volume of waste generated within the state will be produced by nuclear power plants, with the remainder of the waste coming from medical and research facilities. The wastes come in a variety of forms ranging from paper, gloves, boots, resins, plastics, and metals, to ash from incinerated biological wastes and parts of decommissioned nuclear reactors. LLRW generators in New

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--> York State are currently shipping their waste to the Barnwell disposal facility in South Carolina. The facility to be built in New York is projected to receive LLRW for 60 years. Figure 1.1 shows how the amount of radioactivity contained in the disposal facility is expected to change over the life of the facility and beyond. For the purposes of the analysis, the facility was assumed to begin receiving LLRW in 1994. The peak in activity would occur about 36 years into the facility's life, when most of the decommissioning of nuclear power plants would be complete. After 100 years, less than 20% of the peak activity would remain. Figure 1.1 Expected activity through time of the LLRW to be accumulated in a disposal facility in New York State, assuming a 1994 opening date. Source: Siting Commission (1995).

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--> In accordance with the amended act, the New York State Department of Health requested that the National Research Council (NRC) undertake a technical review of the siting process. The statement of task to the committee, which is included in Appendix B of this report, focused on eight questions that address the technical validity of the Siting Commission's screening process. The intent of the questions (and hence the committee's work) was to determine if the siting process and the decisions made by the Siting Commission were based on sound technical considerations and were consistent with good scientific practice. The chair of the National Research Council appointed a committee of 21 experts to perform the technical review. This committee, which operated under the auspices of the NRC's Board on Radioactive Waste Management, included experts in many of the disciplines relevant to siting radioactive and hazardous waste facilities, including geology, hydrology, law, sociology, environmental health and science, radiation protection, soil science, mining engineering, and materials science. Biographical sketches of the committee members are given in Appendix C. Work Plan The committee met nine times between January 1994 and October 1995 to gather and review information, discuss the issues, and develop its report. Four of the meetings were held in New York, and parts of these meetings were open to the public and were advertised as such. The purpose of these open sessions was to obtain information relevant to the committee's review from Siting Commission members and staff, New York State agency staff, and interested members of the public. A list of presenters at the open sessions is given in Appendix D. The committee also obtained information from several sources outside these meetings. A subgroup of the committee visited the offices of the Siting Commission during its November 1994 meeting to gather information on the Geographical Information System (GIS) procedures used in the siting process. In addition, the committee received and reviewed a large number of reports and memoranda from the Siting Commission, local governments, and citizens of New York. These

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--> documents are listed in Appendix E. The committee also received and reviewed written responses to a set of questions it submitted to the Siting Commission and the Department of Environmental Conservation. These questions are given in Appendix F. Executive sessions of the committee were held to conduct the following business: (1) the conflict-of-interest discussion, which is required by the NRC of all committees; (2) discussion of the statement of task; (3) discussion of information and technical documents provided to the committee; (4) development of findings and recommendations; and (5) drafting of this report. Following established practices of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management, the parent board to this committee, these sessions were closed to all but NRC committee and staff members. Executive sessions were held at each of the four New York meetings. Five additional executive sessions were held at NRC facilities in Washington, D.C.; Irvine, California; and Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Scope and Organization of This Report This report presents the committee's findings and conclusions concerning the Siting Commission's work through September of 1989 (the issue date of the Report on Potential Sites Identification) and addresses the first three parts of the statement of task (see Appendix B): (1) the exclusion of lands as potential sites, (2) the selection of 10 candidate areas, and (3) the selection of 5 potential sites. The statement of task directed the committee to address each of its tasks in a separate report. After extensive discussion, however, the committee decided to address these tasks in a single report to improve the presentation of findings and reduce redundancies. The remaining two parts of the statement of task, a review of the disposal methodology and source term, were cancelled by the New York State Department of Health after the siting process was halted in 1995. Consequently, these tasks are not addressed in this report. This report is organized to address explicitly the first three parts of the committee's statement of task. Chapter 2 provides the background to the work of the Siting Commission, including the federal and state legislative framework that guided the siting effort. Chapter 3 provides a

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--> general review and discussion of the Siting Commission's plan and methodology for selecting a disposal site. The Statewide Exclusionary Screening (SES) step of the siting process—the subject of the first part of the task statement—is reviewed in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 addresses the second part of the statement of task, Candidate Area Identification (CAI), and Chapter 6 addresses the third part of the statement of task, Potential Sites Identification (PSI). Concluding observations and the committee's recommendations about the siting process are presented in Chapter 7. Although the eight questions laid out in the charge to the committee are addressed throughout the report, as appropriate, the committee's responses to the questions are summarized in Chapter 8 for ease of reference.