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Monitoring of Disposal Actions for Waste Incidental to Reprocessing

Under Section 3116(b) of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (NDAA), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) monitors the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) disposal actions in coordination with the NDAA–Covered State (i.e., currently Idaho or South Carolina) 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." Note that the NRC monitoring program is only associated with DOE sites under the NDAA.


Monitoring Requirements

As part of fulfilling its NDAA Section 3116(b) monitoring responsibilities, the NRC, in coordination with the NDAA–Covered State (i.e., currently Idaho or South Carolina) assesses 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." Subpart C contains the 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)

The NRC staff focuses on monitoring those aspects of the DOE disposal actions that may affect whether the performance objectives can be met at the present time and in the future. 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. Moreover, NDAA Section 3116(b) 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 DOE complies with the performance objectives now and compliance will likely continue to be achieved in the future.

As identified in the staff requirements memorandum (SRM) regarding SECY-05-0073, the NRC staff uses 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 are being and will be monitored in the future. Identifying those key aspects is part of assessing 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 uses risk insights gained through its technical consultation and evaluation process. This enables 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. Staff also reviews related physical processes, as well as engineering and health physics practices.

Monitoring is a mechanism to manage important assumptions and uncertainties. It is also a way to evaluate new information that disproves or supplements previous information or assumptions. After DOE issues the final waste determination, the NRC issues a monitoring plan to carry-out its monitoring activities at that location. Also, the NRC may periodically issue a revised monitoring plan for that location. Specifically, the staff's monitoring approach consists of three primary activities:

  1. Conducting 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
  1. Physically observing, 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 (as it relates to continued ability to contain radionuclides and/or compromise physical stability of the system)
  1. Conducting data reviews on real-time monitoring data.

NRC, in coordination with the NDAA-Covered State, is responsible for monitoring DOE disposal actions in perpetuity. It is expected that the required level of NRC monitoring 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 Covered State's regulatory programs related to monitoring at the DOE site. As monitoring continues over time, the scope of the NRC's monitoring efforts are expected to be reduced because it is expected that DOE will have demonstrated safe disposal actions.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, February 04, 2020