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Low-Level Waste and Decommissioning Sub-Arena

Low-level waste and decommissioning comprise one of three sub-arenas that the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identified in considering which areas of the waste management arena to target for greater use of risk information. This page summarizes the following aspects of this sub-arena:

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Objective

Facilitate the application of risk-informed and performance-based approaches in implementing the NRC's rulemaking, licensing, and oversight functions for low-level waste, including waste incidental to reprocessing, and decommissioning on a case-by-case basis.

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Basis

The NRC staff engages with the agency's licensees and stakeholders (including the public) in making significant decommissioning decisions and implementing significant actions focusing on risk-significance and potential environmental impacts. The NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS), in coordination with the Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research (RES) and the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analysis (CNWRA), is continuing development, maintenance, and evaluation of probabilistic environmental models and codes for risk/dose analysis. Use of probabilistic distributions as inputs to uncertain physical and behavior parameters is common in independent staff reviews in determining risk-significance and request for additional information development. The NRC also uses probabilistic tools with uncertainty analysis to review and assess dose impacts to demonstrate compliance with the dose criteria set forth in Subpart E of 10 CFR Part 20.

In review of waste determinations to be made by the U.S. Department of Energy that waste is incidental to reprocessing, the staff utilizes risk-informed performance-based approaches including uncertainty/sensitivity analyses and alternate conceptual models. The risk insights gained during the review are utilized to establish the monitoring areas for a site.

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Goals

The staff has established the following goals for risk-informed and performance-based activities in this subarena:

  • Continue to evaluate current dose modeling approaches for low-level waste and decommissioning, and provide recommendations for a path-forward to enhance the use of risk-informed and performance-based approaches in licensing reviews and regulatory implementation.
  • Continue making incremental improvement (as practicable) in rulemaking and guidance development, licensing, and oversight, to enhance the use of risk-informed and performance-based approaches.
  • Encourage the industry and NRC licensees to use a risk-informed and performance-based approach in demonstrating compliance with the NRC's risk/dose criteria.

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List of Risk-Informed and Performance-Based Activities

This list shows the ongoing licensing initiatives, projects, and activities that the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has targeted for greater use of risk information in the Low-Level Waste and Decommissioning Sub-Arena within the Waste Management Arena:

Greater than Class-C Waste

Summary Description

In Staff Requirements Memorandum SRM-SECY-15-0094, the Commission directed December 22, 2015, the staff to develop a regulatory basis for disposal of GTCC waste through means other than a deep geologic disposal, including near surface disposal, within six months of the completion of the final rule for 10 CFR Part 61; conduct a public workshop during the regulatory basis development to receive input from the State of Texas and other interested stakeholders; and address the definition of transuranic waste in Part 61.

In this activity, the staff is:

  • Analyzing potential hazards and risks associated with near surface disposal of GTCC and transuranic wastes;
  • Identifying potential considerations for a risk-informed and performance-based regulatory framework for the disposal of GTCC and transuranic waste;
  • Obtaining peer review and public comments on the safety, security and risk considerations.

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Extension of Timeframe for Uranium Recovery Inspections

Summary Description

Participation in licensing activities, information gained from site visits and inspections, and discussions with NRC staff members supported a broad assumption that uranium in situ leach facilities and Uranium Mill Tailings Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA) sites currently with the Department of Energy under a General License, pose an inherently low risk. Increasing the inspection frequencies as discussed above will not increase the level of risk or types of incidents expected at these facilities.

For operational Uranium Recovery (UR) facilities, the staff recommended that the inspection frequency be changed from biannual to annual except during the startup phase of newly operating facilities; or when there are escalated enforcement or other operational/non-routine issues (which includes inspections conducted as a result of allegations or events, etc.).

For sites currently with the Department of Energy under a General License, in accordance with the UMTRCA, the staff recommended that the inspection frequency be changed from once every 5-years to once every 10-years. Except for sites with groundwater contamination.

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Increasing License Terms for Uranium Recovery Facilities

Summary Description

As discussed in NUREG/CR-6733, participation in licensing activities, information gained from site visits, and discussions with NRC staff members supported a broad assumption that uranium in situ leach facilities pose inherently low risk, however groundwater monitoring and restoration are key to protection of people and the environment. In SECY-17-0086, the NRC staff proposed to increase the maximum license term from 10 to 20 years for all new UR licenses and license renewals. The NRC staff requested to reserve the option to issue license terms for less than 20 years where the applicant or licensee introduces a new process or new technology. In the SECY, the staff determined that extending the license term for UR facilities to 20 years would not change the health and safety requirements currently in licenses. A 20-year license would grant the same authorizations and have the same conditions as a 10-year license. Regulatory oversight will be maintained to ensure adherence to requirements and conditions. Thus, given the relatively low level of risk involved in the current operations of these facilities, and their historical performance, the NRC staff determined that issuing license terms for a maximum of 20 years will not adversely impact the protection of public health and safety and protection of the environment.

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Aligning the Inspection Hours with the Stage of Decommissioning for Power Reactors

Summary Description

The decommissioning power reactor inspection program describes the inspection requirements for the decommissioning of 10 CFR Part 50 power reactor licensees. The decommissioning of power reactors may take up to 60 years depending on a number of considerations. In addition, the decommissioning activities at a specific facility may range from relative inactivity (e.g., deferred dismantlement under SAFSTOR) to activities that have a greater potential to challenge public health and safety and the environment (e.g., active dismantlement under DECON). Because of this wide range of decommissioning and safety considerations, the NRC issued Inspection Manual Chapter 2561, "Decommissioning Power Reactor Inspection Program," to promulgate inspection requirements and guidance necessary to provide reasonable assurance that (1) the NRC's regulatory oversight contributes to the protection of public health and safety, and (2) NRC staff oversight and inspection resources are effective, consistent, and appropriately focused.

The revision to the decommissioning power reactor inspection program emphasizes balanced oversight and review of a cross-section of licensee activities important to the conduct of safe decommissioning and spent fuel safety. Licensee decommissioning programs and procedures should be assessed to ensure that they afford a comparable level of quality, rigor, and effectiveness as those in existence during power reactor operations, while taking into consideration the decreased risk to public health and safety and the environment that is present at a decommissioning facility. The decommissioning power reactor inspection program provides NRC management with flexibility in the allocation of inspection resources to address emergent activities and potential issues at specific decommissioning power reactors.

IMC-2561 outlines eight categories of decommissioning activities and provides a table with the recommended average annual inspection hours for each of these categories.

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Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal (10 CFR Part 61) Rulemaking

Summary Description

Conduct rulemaking to require site-specific analysis for licensed low-level waste disposal facilities. This rule improves on the risk-informed, performance-based framework already present in Part 61 to ensure that the safety analyses performed by disposal sites accepting large quantities of depleted uranium, other long-lived wastes, and other wastes not fully analyzed during the initial 10 CFR Part 61 rulemaking process evaluate long-term isolation of this material.

This rulemaking uses risk insights of disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium, other long-lived wastes, and other wastes not fully analyzed during the initial 10 CFR Part 61 rulemaking process.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, May 23, 2019