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).

NRC WIR Responsibilities under Section 3116 of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (NDAA):

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress enacted the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005(NDAA). Under Section 3116 of that legislation, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the NRC, may determine that certain wastes resulting from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel can be managed as low-level waste (LLW) (i.e., WIR), rather than managed as 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, "Radioactive Waste Management"; the associated "Radioactive Waste Management Manual"; or the West Valley Demonstration Project Act (for West Valley only).

Under NDAA Section 3116(a), DOE has the responsibility to consult with the NRC on DOE draft waste determinations in Covered States. DOE provides a draft waste determination and other documents to NRC with a request that NRC review it. NRC then provides its review on the draft waste determination and other documents back to DOE.

Under NDAA Section 3116(b), NRC has the responsibility to monitor DOE NDAA disposal actions at sites in the Covered State in coordination with the Covered State to determine whether DOE complies 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." Also under NDAA Section 3116(b), if the NRC considers any disposal actions taken by DOE under the NDAA to be not in compliance with those performance objectives, then the NRC must, as soon as practicable after discovery of the noncompliant conditions, inform DOE, Covered State, and specific committees in Congress.

NRC WIR Responsibilities not under the NDAA:

For non-NDAA covered states, criteria for DOE waste determinations (i.e., sometimes referred to as WIR evaluations) are specified in each sites' governing documentation. The West Valley Demonstration Project Act specifies the criteria for the West Valley site in New York State. The Hanford Tri-Party Agreement specifies the criteria for criteria for the Hanford site in Washington State. Both the West Valley Demonstration Project Act and the Hanford Tri-Party Agreement use the criteria listed in the DOE Order 435.1. DOE may decide to provide a draft waste determination (and other documentation) to NRC with a request that NRC review the information. NRC then provides its review on the information back to DOE.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, March 27, 2020