Environmental Protection

NRC Proposal Seeks to Avoid Future Legacy Sites

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeks public comment on a proposed rule designed to prevent future "legacy sites" with insufficient funds for decommissioning by requiring licensees to minimize the introduction of residual radioactivity at their sites during operations.

The proposed rule, published Jan. 22 in the Federal Register, would require licensees to keep survey records of residual radioactivity, including in the subsurface soil and groundwater, with records important for decommissioning. The proposed rule would require certain licensees to report additional details in their decommissioning cost estimates and amend some financial assurance mechanisms for decommissioning planning.

Facilities that process large quantities of material, especially in liquid form, have the potential for significant environmental contamination due to the scale of their operations. Leaks from these facilities can lead to significant radioactive contamination of the subsurface soil and groundwater even though the radiation doses from these releases are well below annual regulatory limits for public and occupational exposure.

In addition, the high costs of disposing radioactive material offsite may lead licensees to store more waste onsite, increasing the potential for subsurface radioactive contamination and significantly higher decommissioning costs.

Licensees must perform surveys to verify that radioactive effluent releases are below regulatory requirements and do not pose public health hazards. However, the NRC believes these regulations are not clear enough concerning subsurface contamination and require interpretation to apply to long-term environmental conditions. Surveys rarely have been performed to assess the radiological hazard of chronic releases and subsurface contamination because these are not considered effluent releases and do not cause immediate exposure either to workers or the public approaching regulatory limits.

Proposed changes to financial assurance requirements would require more detailed reporting by licensees and would place tighter NRC control over certain financial instruments set aside to cover eventual decommissioning costs.

Comments on the proposed rule should be submitted by April 7. Comments may be mailed to the Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff. They may also be e-mailed to SECY@nrc.gov  or faxed to 301-415-1101. Please note "RIN 3150-AH45" in the subject line.

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