Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Improving the Safe Management and Disposal of 'Low-Activity' Radioactive Wastes
Low-Activity Radioactive Waste
What is EPA Considering?
EPA has developed an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to ask the public for opinions and information on a wide variety of issues related to disposal of waste containing low concentrations of radioactive material, 'low-activity' radioactive waste. At this time, 'low-activity' itself is a concept but would be more precisely defined by methods such as those described in the ANPR.
We are exploring a number of regulatory and non-regulatory ways to minimize storage and ensure the sufficient and safe disposal capacity for 'low-activity' radioactive wastes in the future while assuring environmental and public health protection. In general, we believe that radioactive waste disposal could be improved by a consistent approach based on the risk to public health and the environment presented by the material in question, rather than its origin or statutory definition. We are not proposing regulatory language or a specific regulatory approach at this time. Instead, we want to hear the public’s ideas on scientific and policy issues before deciding whether to develop a regulation. Because this action affected the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its Agreement States as well as Department of Energy facilities, we worked with them in developing the ANPR.
Present regulation of 'low-activity' radioactive waste is inconsistent, often based on the origin of the waste. Besides inconsistent regulation, cost and availability of disposal affect the way low-activity wastes are managed. We believe that certain types of disposal facilities, particularly hazardous waste landfills permitted under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), may be able to offer appropriate protection for disposal of low-activity radioactive wastes. Among the wastes that could be addressed as 'low-activity' are mixed (chemically hazardous and radioactive) wastes, wastes containing natural radioactivity, cleanup wastes, and other low-level radioactive waste.
We believe that identifying additional options for safe disposal of these and other 'low-activity' radioactive wastes, with the appropriate regulatory controls, has the potential to provide a number of benefits:
- a more consistent consideration of the risks associated with 'low-activity' wastes
- quicker site cleanups
- improved overall management of radioactive wastes.
What is Included in EPA’s ANPR?
We focus on concepts to ensure protective disposal of 'low-activity' radioactive wastes, including:
- what types of disposal facilities might be appropriate for 'low-activity' wastes
- what types of additional measures might be appropriate to provide confidence that these facilities can be protective
- how to define 'low-activity' (e.g., modeling of potential exposures to landfill workers or evaluating the behavior of the landfill over a long time period)
- what level of risk or dose should be the benchmark to model potential exposures
- how NRC might address waste from its (or its Agreement State) licensees
- how state regulatory agencies and the public need to be involved in allowing alternative disposal
- whether non-regulatory actions (e.g., guidance) could help improve current practices.