DOE issues enviro review on low-level radioactive disposal siting

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Feb. 25 released a Final Environmental Impact Statement, dated January 2016, for the disposal of greater-than-class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste.

The final EIS covers potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed development, operation, and long-term management of a disposal facility or facilities for GTCC low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) and DOE GTCC-like waste. GTCC LLRW has radionuclide concentrations exceeding the limits for Class C LLRW established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). These wastes are generated by activities licensed by the NRC or agreement states and cannot be disposed of in currently licensed commercial LLRW disposal facilities. 

The NRC LLRW classification system does not apply to radioactive wastes generated or owned by DOE and disposed of in DOE facilities. However, DOE owns or generates LLRW and non-defense-generated transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste, which have characteristics similar to those of GTCC LLRW and for which there may be no path for disposal at the present time. DOE has included these wastes for evaluation in this EIS because similar approaches may be used to dispose of both types of radioactive waste.

At this time, there is no disposal capability for GTCC low-level radioactive waste (LLRW). GTCC LLRW is generated by NRC or agreement state (i.e., a state that has signed an agreement with NRC to regulate certain uses of radioactive materials within the state) licensees. 

GTCC LLRW consists of activated metals from the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, disused or unwanted sealed sources, and other waste (i.e., GTCC LLRW that is not activated metals or sealed sources). Other waste consists of contaminated equipment, debris, scrap metal, filters, resins, soil, and solidified sludges.

DOE proposes to construct and operate a new facility or facilities or to use an existing facility for the disposal of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste. DOE would then close the facility or facilities at the end of each facility’s operational life. Institutional controls, including monitoring, would be employed for a period of time determined during the implementation phase. A combination of disposal methods and locations might be appropriate, depending on the characteristics of the waste among other factors.

Disposal methods evaluated are the use of deep geologic disposal (via a geologic repository), an intermediate-depth borehole, an enhanced near-surface trench, and an above-grade vault.

The disposal locations evaluated are: the Hanford Site; the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site; Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), which was formerly known as the Nevada Test Site or NTS; the Savannah River Site (SRS), the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and the WIPP Vicinity (where two locations are evaluated – one within and one outside the land withdrawal boundary of WIPP). Generic (commercial) sites are also evaluated for the borehole, trench, and vault methods, as applicable. The assumed locations of the generic sites coincide with the four NRC regions.

DOE intends for this EIS to provide the information that supports the selection of disposal method(s) and site(s) for the GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste. DOE would conduct additional reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to evaluate the potential impacts from constructing and operating the selected disposal method(s) at the selected site(s), as needed.

Before issuing a Record of Decision (ROD) for the selection of disposal method(s) and site(s), DOE will submit a report Congress under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The act requires DOE to await Congressional action. DOE will not issue a ROD until its required report to Congress has been provided and appropriate action has been taken by Congress in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.