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Low-Activity Radioactive Waste
Waste Management: 

What is 'Low-Activity' Radioactive Waste?

Low-Activity Radioactive 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 on this page.

Low-Level Radioactive Waste (or LLRW)
is a regulatory term defined as the broad group or 'class' of radioactive waste that is not included in the following classes of radioactive waste:

The term is often confusing. It is easy to equate 'low-level radioactive' with 'low radioactive content'. However, there is no limit on the amount of radioactive material that can be contained in 'low-level' radioactive waste. LLRW and a simpler term that is often used, 'low-level waste' (LLW), refer to the same radioactive material.

LLRW is regulated under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and states under agreement with NRC regulate commercial disposal of LLRW in near-surface disposal facilities. The Department of Energy regulates disposal at its own sites.

'Low-Activity' Radioactive Waste (LARW)
refers to a category of radioactive wastes that contain very small concentrations of radionuclides. The concentrations are small enough that managing these wastes may not require all of the radiation protection measures necessary to manage higher-activity radioactive material to be fully protective of public health and the environment. Several classes of radioactive waste (low-level, TENORM, pre-UMTRCA.) that contain small enough concentrations of radionuclides may be considered low-activity waste. The ANPR discusses possible ways to determine when concentrations are 'small enough'.

Mixed Low-Level Radioactive Waste, Mixed Low-Level Waste or, for the purposes of the ANPR, Mixed Waste (MW)
this is low-level radioactive wastes that also contains components that are chemically hazardous according to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Such waste is regulated and managed under both RCRA and the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. This dual regulation is a major reason for the limited number of mixed waste disposal facilities.

'Low-Activity' Mixed Waste(or LAMW)
means MW whose radioactive component qualifies as LLRW and whose radionuclide concentrations are 'small'. The limits on the radionuclide concentrations that may be considered 'small' would be developed using the general concepts and considerations described in the ANPR.

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