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Low-Activity Radioactive Waste
Waste Management: 

About Low-Activity Radioactive Waste

Low-Activity Radioactive Waste

On November 18, 2003 EPA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to collect public comment on alternatives for disposal of waste containing low concentrations of radioactive material ('low activity' waste). The ANPR discusses a variety of disposal alternatives as well as various regulatory and technical options for ensuring protection of public health and the environment.

What is "Low-Activity" Waste?

Although we have published the ANPR to gather comment on possible alternatives for disposal of 'low-activity' waste, many readers are likely to come away unsure of exactly what we mean by 'low-activity'. This may be unavoidable, because the ANPR itself describes various ways to create a clear definition of 'low-activity'.

Like the term 'low-activity', each of the types of waste discussed in these pages and in the ANPR has a distinct meaning within the context of the ANPR, though not necessarily a regulatory or statutory definition. We recognize this is potentially confusing. To help avoid such confusion, we have consolidated definitions of all these waste categories:

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Why is EPA Considering Alternative Disposal Options?

EPA's consideration of disposal options for 'low-activity' radioactive waste is an outgrowth of the long-standing problem of managing and disposing of waste that is both chemically hazardous and radioactive ('mixed' waste). In particular, we are evaluating the conditions under which some hazardous waste landfills with Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle C permits might accept certain mixed and other 'low-activity' radioactive waste for disposal. The most important condition will be protecting public health and the environment. One reason we think RCRA hazardous waste landfills could be used to dispose of low-activity radioactive waste is that there is a basic level of design and construction that every landfill must have, which we believe will provide a substantial degree of containment for these wastes. Since the hazardous component of mixed waste is already regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA, we believe it is appropriate to consider RCRA landfills for disposal of mixed waste in which the radioactive content is low. However, we also believe that the use of RCRA landfills might be extended to other wastes with similarly low concentrations of radioactivity.

The ANPR is strictly intended to stimulate public consideration of these issues. We have not decided whether to take further action. Therefore, we are not proposing regulatory language or a specific regulatory approach at this time. In fact, we may not be able to achieve a regulatory solution to the mixed waste disposal problems associated with the dual regulation of mixed waste, or improve disposal practices for low-activity radioactive waste in general. For that reason, we are also considering whether other approaches, such as guidance, voluntary partnerships, or developing 'best practices', could be effective to achieve the same goals.

Because this action affects the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its Agreement States as well Department of Energy facilities, we worked with them in developing the ANPR. After considering the comments received on this ANPR, we will determine whether to proceed with proposed and final standards. If we do proceed, we would work closely with NRC throughout the process. To the extent such standards apply to NRC licensees, the NRC or its Agreement States would implement the standards under AEA authority. To the extent they apply to DOE, DOE may need to revisit it's internal procedures to implement the standards.

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