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Monitoring of Disposal Actions for Waste Incidental to Reprocessing

Under Section 3116 of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (NDAA exit icon), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is required to monitor actions taken by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as they relate to the disposal of non-high-level wastes in Covered States. (Section 3116 currently identifies the Covered States as Idaho and South Carolina.) For additional detail, see the following topics on this page:

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Monitoring Requirements

In fulfilling the monitoring requirements set forth in Section 3116 of the NDAA, 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.” In particular, Subpart C contains a general requirement (10 CFR 61.40), as well as the following specific requirements:

  • Protection of the general population from releases of radioactivity (10 CFR 61.41)
  • Protection of individuals from inadvertent intrusion (10 CFR 61.42)
  • Protection of individuals during operations (10 CFR 61.43)
  • Stability of the disposal site after closure (10 CFR 61.44)

Toward that end, the NRC staff focuses on monitoring those aspects of waste disposal activities that may affect whether the performance objectives can be met at the present time and in the future.

In addition, Section 3116 directs the NRC to issue a report to Congress, the Covered State, and DOE if the staff determines that DOE's disposal actions do not comply with the performance objectives set forth in Subpart C. Moreover, Section 3116 provides for judicial review of any failure of the NRC to carry out its mandated responsibilities. However, the NRC does not have regulatory or enforcement authority over DOE. Accordingly, the NRC's monitoring activities are limited to those activities deemed necessary to assess whether there is reasonable assurance that compliance with the performance objectives will be achieved.

As stated in the staff requirements memorandum (SRM) regarding SECY-05-0073, the NRC staff intends to use a risk-informed and performance-based approach in carrying out its monitoring responsibilities. A cornerstone of the staff’s intended approach is to focus on key aspects of DOE's waste disposal actions that should be monitored. Identifying those key aspects is part of a technical evaluation to assess whether DOE's proposed actions will comply with the performance objectives set forth in Subpart C.

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NRC Monitoring Approach

In monitoring disposal actions for waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR), the NRC staff will use risk insights gained through its technical consultation and evaluation process. This will enable the staff to gauge the relative importance of key modeling assumptions or parameters that DOE uses to demonstrate that the performance objectives will be met. Assumptions, parameters, and features that are expected to have a significant influence on the performance demonstration and/or have relatively large uncertainties will be considered key aspects of the waste disposal system.

Monitoring is a good mechanism to manage important assumptions and uncertainties. It is also a way to evaluate new information that may potentially support previous information or assumptions. Toward that end, after completing its technical evaluation, the NRC staff prepares a compliance monitoring plan for use in carrying out its monitoring activities. Specifically, the staff’s monitoring approach will consist of two primary activities:

  1. Conduct technical reviews of DOE data and analyses, such as the following:
    1. environmental monitoring results
    2. sampling data and inventory estimates
    3. updates to DOE’s performance assessment
    4. worker and public radiation records
    5. DOE and covered State environmental monitoring data, offsite dose calculations, and radiological assessments
    6. design and design changes of the engineered features
  2. Physically observe, through onsite visits, DOE’s disposal actions, such as the following:
    1. environmental sampling and data collection activities
    2. intruder barrier and erosion control designs that can be used to prevent intruder scenarios
    3. construction and maintenance of engineered features
    4. signs of structural failure
The NDAA does not specify how long the NRC is responsible for assessing compliance; therefore, the monitoring is indefinite. In general, it is envisioned that the required level of NRC effort will vary over time, being greater early in the process to review information and observe actions that may potentially support key assumptions and parameters for DOE's disposal actions. To the extent possible, the NRC will take full advantage of the State’s regulatory programs related to monitoring of the disposal facility. As the monitoring activities close, the scope of the NRC's monitoring efforts should be reduced. Formal communications on monitoring take place through transmittal letters between the NRC and DOE.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, November 19, 2013