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Regulatory Authority and Responsibilities for Waste Incidental to Reprocessing

Waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR) is radioactive material, resulting from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, which the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has distinguished from high-level waste (HLW). Because it meets certain criteria, WIR poses less risk (compared to HLW) to the health and safety of people and the environment and, therefore, does not need to be disposed of as HLW. As such, WIR is managed under DOE’s regulatory authority, and is not regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress enacted the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 exit icon (NDAA). Under that legislation, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), may determine that certain waste resulting from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is actually waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR), rather than high-level waste.

Such decisions (rendered as part of the waste determination process) are based on whether the waste in question meets all of the criteria set forth in Section 3116 of the NDAA for the Covered States. (Specifically, Section 3116 now applies to waste determinations in the Covered States of Idaho and South Carolina.) For other States, alternative criteria for waste determinations are specified in DOE Order 435.1 exit icon, "Radioactive Waste Management"; the associated "Radioactive Waste Management Manual"; or the West Valley Demonstration Project Act (for West Valley only).

The NRC's responsibilities under Section 3116 of the NDAA include consulting with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on each of the Secretary’s waste determinations. In addition, Section 3116 directs the NRC, in coordination with each of the Covered States, to monitor DOE's disposal of non-high-level wastes. In so doing, the NRC and Covered States assess DOE’s disposal actions to determine whether they comply with the performance objectives set forth in Subpart C of Title 10, Part 61, of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR Part 61), “Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste.”

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, November 19, 2013