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Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal (Site-Specific Analysis Rulemaking)

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Existing NRC regulations at 10 CFR 61.55, "Waste Classification," specify criteria for classifying low-level radioactive waste for land disposal at a near-surface facility. The original development of 10 CFR 61.55 did not explicitly consider the impacts resulting from the disposal of unique waste streams, such as significant quantities of depleted uranium from the operation of a commercial uranium enrichment facility. When 10 CFR Part 61, "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste," was initially developed, there were no commercial facilities generating significant quantities of depleted uranium waste streams. As a result, the analysis only considered the types of uranium-bearing waste streams being typically disposed of by licensees at the time. For additional information on the impacts considered in developing 10 CFR Part 61, see the following documents:

  • Draft Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61 Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste (NUREG-0782)
  • Final Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61 Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste (NUREG-0945)

Depleted uranium is a source material, as defined in 10 CFR Part 40, "Domestic Licensing of Source Material," and if treated as a waste would fall under the definition of low-level radioactive waste in accordance with 10 CFR 61.55(a). The Commission reaffirmed this waste classification in Memorandum and Order CLI-05-20, dated October 19, 2005. Consistent with Commission policy to increase the use of risk assessment technology in all regulatory matters, the NRC staff considered in a screening analysis (SECY-08-0147), dated October 7, 2008, whether quantities of depleted uranium at issue in the waste stream from commercial uranium enrichment facilities warrant amending the waste classification tables in 10 CFR 61.55(a) or 10 CFR 61.55(a)(6).

In a Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM-SECY-08-0147), dated March 18, 2009, the Commission directed the staff to pursue a limited rulemaking to specify a requirement for a site-specific analysis and associated technical requirements for unique waste streams including, but not limited to, the disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium. In pursuing this limited rulemaking, the NRC is not proposing to alter the waste classification scheme. However, for unique waste streams including, but not limited to, significant quantities of depleted uranium, there may be a need to impose additional criteria on its disposal at a specific facility or deny such disposal based on unique site characteristics. Those restrictions would be determined through a site-specific analysis, which satisfies the requirements developed through the rulemaking process. In a second SRM, SRM SECY-10-0043, the staff was also directed to include blended LLW streams as part of this rulemaking initiative.

On June 24, 2009, the NRC published an announcement in the Federal Register, (74 FR 30175) to solicit early public input on major issues associated with potential rulemaking for land disposal of unique waste streams including, but not limited to, significant quantities of depleted uranium in near-surface, low-level radioactive waste facilities. Toward that end, the NRC staff hosted public workshops in Rockville, Maryland, on September 2–3, 2009, and in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 23–24, 2009, to discuss issues associated with rulemaking. Agendas for those public workshops were provided in advance through the NRC's Public Meeting Schedule. Following the workshops, the NRC received comments from the public and other interested stakeholders, regarding the issues discussed at the workshops; those comments were submitted through Regulations.gov, under Docket ID NRC-2009-0257.

The staff subsequently developed a technical basis document for the rulemaking amendment, shared it with the NRC Agreement States, and proceeded to develop a proposed rulemaking package. In connection with the rulemaking effort, the staff proposed a two-tier approach for evaluating compliance with Part 61's overall system performance objectives: an assessment that extends to 20,000-years as well as an assessment that extends beyond 20,000 years to the time of peak dose.

On May 18, 2011, the staff sought public feedback on the preliminary proposed rulemaking language and the technical basis for the time of compliance recommendation. That workshop was held in Rockville, Maryland.  Later that year, the staff also briefed the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) on the preliminary proposed rulemaking language. The ACRS’s views were documented in a letter to the Commission dated September 22, 2011.

In SRM COMWDM-11-0002/COMGEA-11-0002, dated January 19, 2012, the Commission provided additional direction to the staff concerning this particular rulemaking. Specifically, the staff was directed to amend the existing draft rulemaking to include the following features (requirements):

  • Allowing licensees the flexibility to use International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) dose methodologies in a site-specific performance assessment for the disposal of all radioactive waste.
  • A two tiered approach that establishes a compliance period that covers the reasonably foreseeable future and a longer period of performance that is not a priori and is established to evaluate the performance of the site over longer timeframes. The period of performance is developed based on the candidate site characteristics (waste package, waste form, disposal technology, cover technology and geo-hydrology) and the peak dose to a designated receptor.
  • Flexibility for disposal facilities to establish site-specific Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC) based on the results of the site’s performance assessment and intruder assessment.
  • A compatibility category for the elements of the revised rule that establish the requirements for site-specific performance assessments and the development of the site-specific WAC that ensures alignment between the States and Federal government on safety fundamentals, while providing the States with the flexibility to determine how to implement these safety requirements.

In the January 2012 SRM, the Commission also directed the staff to engage stakeholders and other members of the interested public to discuss and finalize the agency's approach to address these matters. Accordingly, the staff planned a series of three public meetings in March, May, and July 2012 on proposed revisions to Part 61. The first of these public meetings was scheduled for March 2, 2012, in Phoenix, Arizona.  The NRC staff also encouraged the submission of written comments on the matters to be discussed at these meetings.  After completion of the public outreach campaign, the staff will prepared an amended technical basis document and commence with the rulemaking. Changes was made to the Part 61 companion guidance document to address the new direction.

The NRC staff also briefed the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials Subcommittee, on June 23 and August 17, 2011, and the full committee on July 13 and September 8, 2011.  The NRC staff again briefed the ACRS, Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials Subcommittee, on April 9, 2013, and the full committee on July 10, 2013.

On July 18, 2013, the NRC staff submitted a revised draft proposed rule and associated guidance for Commission review and approval, SECY-13-0075.  The draft proposed rule would update the existing technical analysis requirements for protection of the general population (i.e., performance assessment); add a new site-specific technical analysis for the protection of inadvertent intruders (i.e., intruder assessment); add a new analysis for certain long-lived LLRW; and revise the technical analyses required at closure.  The draft proposed rule would also add a new requirement to develop criteria for the acceptance of LLRW for disposal based on either the results of these technical analyses or on the existing LLRW classification requirements.

In its February 12, 2014, SRM-SECY-13-0075, the Commission approved publication of the proposed rule and the associated draft guidance for public comment, subject to the comments and changes noted in the SRM.  The NRC staff is currently revising the proposed rule and associated draft guidance.

Lastly, the NRC staff has also been engaged in other Part 61-related regulatory development activities. Through the course of those interactions, the staff has received comments and suggestions bearing on the current Part 61 rule and potential changes thereto. One such initiative was in connection with SECY-10-0165, dated December 27, 2010, concerning the staff's proposed options for a comprehensive revision of Part 61.  The staff also intends to seek the public's views on earlier stakeholder comments received as well as any continuing advocacy for the potential revision to 10 CFR Part 61. (See SECY-10-0165)

The schedule listed below reflects the current timetable for meeting with stakeholders as well as the initiation of the rulemaking effort. Kindly refer the NRC Public Meetings Page for the latest information on the public meeting events of interest.

Event/Milestone Scheduled Date
NRC-Sponsored Public Meeting #1: Phoenix, AZ (following Waste Management '12 Meeting) March 2, 2012
LLW Forum Spring Meeting: San Francisco, CA April 23,2012
CRCPD Annual Meeting: Orlando, FL May 7, 2012
NRC-Sponsored Public Meeting #2: Dallas, TX May 15, 2012
EPRI Annual LLW Meeting: Tucson, AZ June 22, 2012
NRC-Sponsored Public Meeting #3: Rockville, MD Mid-July 2012
Health Physics Society Annual Meeting: Sacramento, CA July 22, 2012
Organization of Agreement States Annual Meeting: Milwaukee, WI August 27, 2012
Submit proposed rulemaking package to SECY for signature February 2015

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Proposed Rule Language Changes Sent to Commission for Review and Approval


A key area of stakeholder interest concerns how the existing draft proposed Part 61 rulemaking language, first discussed with the public at a May 18, 2011, public workshop (76 FR 24831), might be amended in response to the Commission’s January 19, 2012, expanded direction. To improve the transparency of the overall rulemaking process, given the multiple sets of Commission direction, a crosswalk has been prepared to graphically illustrate which areas of the Part 61 regulation will be the focus of amendment given the January 2012 SRM.

2014 Public Workshop Information

2012 Public Workshop Information

2011 Public Workshop Information

2009 Public Workshop Information

For additional information, see our Frequently Asked Questions about Land Disposal of Unique Waste Streams and our Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium and Other Waste Disposal.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, October 21, 2014