United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Information Notice No. 91-65: Emergency Access to Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facilities

                                UNITED STATES
                        NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
              OFFICE OF NUCLEAR MATERIAL SAFETY AND SAFEGUARDS
                           WASHINGTON, D.C.  20555

                              October 16, 1991


NRC INFORMATION NOTICE 91-65:  EMERGENCY ACCESS TO LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE 
                               WASTE DISPOSAL FACILITIES


Addressees

All NRC licensees.

Purpose

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this information 
notice to licensees who generate or who may potentially generate low-level 
radioactive waste (LLW) for shipment to LLW disposal facilities.  This 
notification is intended to inform licensees of the strict requirements 
governing implementation of the emergency access provision of the Low-Level 
Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (LLRWPAA), and to discourage 
any consideration of reliance on emergency access as a means of LLW 
disposal.  This notification does not constitute a complete review of the 
rules, regulations, and statutes referenced herein, and should not be 
considered a substitute for these requirements  No specific action or 
written response is required.

Description of Circumstances

The LLRWPAA established a series of milestones, penalties, and incentives 
for States or regional compacts to progress toward development of disposal 
capacity by 1993.  The Act contains an emergency access provision (Section 
6) by which, "Any generator of low-level radioactive waste, or any Governor 
... may request that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant emergency 
access to a regional disposal facility ... for specific low-level 
radioactive waste."  As a precondition to requesting an emergency access 
determination from NRC, a LLW generator or governor must be denied access 
to all existing LLW disposal facilities.

Congressional concern that a serious and immediate threat to the public 
health and safety could result from denial of access to a LLW disposal 
facility led to inclusion of the emergency access provision in the LLRWPAA.  
On February 3, 1989, NRC published an emergency access rule (10 CFR Part 62) 
that defines the criteria and procedures used for emergency access to 
non-Federal and regional LLW disposal facilities.  As the Commission stated 
in issuing its regulations governing emergency access decisions, Congress 
did not intend that Section 6 of the LLRWPAA be an alternative to the 
pursuit of the development of new low-level waste disposal capacity.  The 
Commission remains strongly opposed to implementation of the emergency 
access provisions as an alternative for those States not meeting the 
milestones in the LLRWPAA and, accordingly, has no intent to implement these 
provisions to address such situations.  Emergency 

9110100249
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                                                            IN 91-65
                                                            October 16, 1991
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access is to be used only under very limited and rare circumstances.  
Instances where such action is necessary to eliminate a serious and 
immediate threat to the public health and safety or the common defense and 
security and where there are no other mitigating alternatives available to 
emergency access, would be unlikely.  The emergency access provision 
provides a mechanism for federal involvement only as a vehicle of last 
resort.  The rule sets strict requirements for granting emergency access, 
and places the burden on the party requesting emergency access, to 
demonstrate that the criteria in the rule have been met and that emergency 
access is needed.

Denial of LLW disposal access for generators from the State of Michigan by 
the three sited States with existing LLW disposal facilities on November 10, 
1990, focused attention on the emergency access provision.  Recent questions 
about the licensing and operation of new LLW disposal facilities in 
California and Nebraska have also raised concern about possible requests 
for, and implementation of, emergency access determinations by NRC.

Discussion

An emergency access determination can be made only by NRC.  Information that 
NRC requires to reach a determination is to be provided by the LLW 
generator, or governor, who has been denied access to all LLW disposal 
facilities.  Information to be submitted would include the need for access 
to LLW disposal sites, the quantity and type of material requiring disposal, 
impacts on health and safety or common defense and security if emergency 
access were not granted, and consideration of available alternatives to 
emergency access.  The Commission will decide whether the requestor has 
considered all factors in the evaluation of alternatives and the impacts of 
these alternatives on public health and safety.

The requestor will be expected to:  (1) demonstrate that all pertinent 
alternatives have been considered;  (2) provide a detailed analysis 
comparing each of the alternatives considered; (3) demonstrate that 
consideration has been given to combining alternatives in some way or in 
some sequence either to avoid the need for emergency access, or to resolve 
the threat, even on a temporary basis, until other arrangements can be made; 
(4) evaluate the societal costs, technical and economic feasibility and 
benefits to the public health and safety of the potential alternatives; and 
(5) incorporate the results into the request.

Applicants for emergency access will have to provide clear and convincing 
evidence that they have exhausted all other options for managing their LLW.  
Alternatives which, at a minimum, a requestor must evaluate include:  
(1) storage of LLW at the site of generation or at a storage facility; 
(2) obtaining access to a disposal facility by voluntary agreement; 
(3) purchasing disposal capacity available for assignment pursuant to the 
Section 5(c)(4) of the LLRWPAA; and (4) ceasing activities that generate 
LLW.

NRC staff has provided the following guidance to waste generators on how to 
manage the accumulation of waste in the event of denial of access to waste 
disposal facilities:
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                                                            IN 91-65
                                                            October 16, 1991
                                                            Page 3 of 4


1.  Information Notice No. 90-09:  Extended Interim Storage of Low-Level 
                                   Radioactive Waste by Fuel Cycle and 
                                   Materials Licensees.

2.  Information Notice No. 89-13:  Alternative Waste Management Procedures 
                                   in Case of Denial of Access to Low-Level 
                                   Waste Disposal Sites.(1)

3.  Generic Letter 85-14:          Commercial Storage at Power Reactors of 
                                   Low-Level Radioactive Waste Not Generated 
                                   by the Utility. 

4.  Generic Letter 81-38:          Storage of Low-Level Radioactive Waste at 
                                   Power Reactors.

Upon receipt of a request for emergency access, NRC will publish a notice in 
the Federal Register informing the public that Commission action on the 
request is pending and coordination with potentially involved or impacted 
States would begin.  The LLRWPAA limits NRC to 45 days from the time a 
request is received to determine whether emergency access will be granted.  
Information submitted by the requestor will enable the Commission to 
determine:

     (a)  whether a serious and immediate threat to the public health and  
          safety or the common defense and security might exist;

     (b)  whether alternatives exist that could mitigate the threat; and 

     (c)  which non-Federal disposal facility or facilities should provide 
          the required disposal capacity.

If NRC determines that an alternative exists that ensures the public health 
and safety, does not jeopardize the common defense and security, and is 
technically and economically feasible, the request for emergency access will 
be denied.  Only if all alternatives prove to be unreasonable can NRC grant 
access.

If emergency access is granted, the Commission will select a disposal 
facility to receive the LLW based on waste characteristics and disposal site 
compatibility, capacity limits determined by the LLRWPAA, licensing 
criteria, and other related considerations.  The disposal facility 
determination would be coordinated with appropriate State authorities.  A 
LLW disposal facility will be selected to receive only those classes of 
waste that it normally handles and disposes of pursuant to its license under 
non-emergency access operating conditions.  In addition, emergency access is 
limited in time and amount.  It cannot exceed 180 days, with the possibility 
of one 180-day extension.  If the serious threat ceases, access can be 
terminated sooner.  Further, in deciding 

_____________________
     (1)  This information notice specifically addresses this concern and 
outlines actions such as making license amendments to increase possession 
limits, using volume reduction techniques, and using alternative management 
and disposal techniques.
.

                                                            IN 91-65
                                                            October 16, 1991
                                                            Page 4 of 4


which site to designate to receive the emergency access waste, the 
Commission would exclude a disposal facility if the volume of emergency 
access waste received by the facility exceeds 20 percent of the total volume 
of LLW accepted for disposal during the previous calendar year.  

The Commission does not anticipate any situation where the lack of access 
would create a serious and immediate threat to the public health and safety.  
Furthermore, it was the intent of Congress that the emergency access 
provision neither be used to circumvent other provisions of the Act nor be 
viewed by unsited States as an alternative to the development of new LLW 
disposal capacity.  The emergency access rule sets a very high threshold for 
granting emergency access and should serve to encourage potential requestors 
to seek other means for resolving difficulties created by denial of access 
to LLW disposal facilities.  It is difficult to envision, for example, any 
set of circumstances under which a nuclear power plant could justify a 
request for emergency access.

Licensees are encouraged to monitor the status of current siting and 
disposal developments in their low-level radioactive waste compacts or 
States to better foresee potential LLW management difficulties.  Licensees 
in States for which it appears milestones of the LLRWPAA will not be met 
should prepare for the possibility of restrictions on disposal of 
radioactive waste.

Questions about emergency access should be addressed to:

     Paul Lohaus, Chief, Low-Level Waste Management Branch, Division of 
     Low-Level Waste Management and Decommissioning, 301 492-0553.

This information notice requires no specific action or written response.  If 
you have any questions about the information in this notice, please contact 
the technical contact listed below.




                                   Richard L. Bangart, Director
                                   Division of Low-Level Waste Management 
                                     and Decommissioning
                                   Office of Nuclear Material Safety 
                                     and Safeguards


Technical contact:  Richard H. Turtil, NMSS
                    (301) 492-3447


Attachments:  
1.  List of Recently Issued NMSS Information Notices
2.  List of Recently Issued NRC Information Notices
.
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