DOE to Evaluate Alternatives for Greater Than Class C Low-Level Waste Disposal

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on July 20 that it will evaluate disposal options for Greater Than Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive waste (LLW) generated from the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, medical activities and nuclear research.

DOE delivered to the Federal Register a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will evaluate how and where to safely dispose of GTCC LLW that is currently stored at commercial nuclear power plants and other generator sites across the country. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires DOE to report to Congress on its evaluation of safe disposal options for this commercial waste.

The NOI includes a list of the preliminary disposal options for analysis in the EIS, describes the inventory of waste to be analyzed, identifies dates and locations of public meetings, and invites public comments on the proposed scope of the EIS.

GTCC waste is commercial LLW generated from activities conducted by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensees and stored at sites where it is generated throughout the United States. DOE estimates the total stored and projected quantity nationwide of the GTCC LLW to be 2,600 cubic meters. GTCC LLW is grouped into three general waste types: activated metals, which come from the maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants; radioactive sealed sources that are no longer used, including irradiation of food and medical purposes; and miscellaneous waste, such as contaminated equipment from industrial research and development.

In addition to the GTCC LLW, DOE intends to include in the EIS evaluation certain LLW and transuranic waste that is generated from DOE activities, which may not have an identified disposal path, and has characteristics similar to GTCC LLW. This DOE waste is estimated to be 3,000 cubic meters.

Regulations require that GTCC waste be disposed of in a geologic repository unless alternate proposals for its safe disposal in a NRC licensed facility are approved by the NRC. DOE will evaluate a range of disposal alternatives in preparing the EIS to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, DOE will submit a Report to Congress after the final EIS is complete and await Congressional action before making a decision on the disposal alternative or alternatives to be implemented by DOE as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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