10 CFR 20.2002 Process for Alternative Disposals
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Radioactive materials regulated under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) are used in generating electricity; in treating and diagnosing disease; in smoke detectors used in homes; in industrial applications, such as thickness measuring gages; in biomedical research to help produce new drugs; and in many other applications. Byproduct materials, or wastes, are produced in using these radioactive materials and in generating electricity from nuclear power. These wastes must be safely managed and disposed of to protect people and the environment from the effects of ionizing radiation. Some wastes, such as spent fuel from reactors, are highly radioactive and must be disposed of in a geologic repository. Other radioactive waste regulated under the AEA ranges from highly radioactive components from the core of nuclear reactors, to waste that has very low concentrations of residual radioactivity and poses minimal risk to human health.
This waste, referred to as Low-Level Waste (LLW), is generally defined as consisting of radioactive wastes other than high-level waste, spent fuel, transuranic wastes, and certain types of byproduct material, including uranium mill tailings from uranium recovery operations (also known as 11e.(2) byproduct material). LLW includes items that have become contaminated with radioactive material or have become radioactive through exposure to neutron radiation. This waste typically consists of contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipment and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes, and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues. The level of radioactivity in LLW can range from just above background levels found in nature to much higher levels, in certain cases, such as parts from inside the reactor vessel of a nuclear power plant. It may include not only radioactive waste from the nuclear fuel cycle but also naturally occurring materials, such as uranium extracted from water onto ion exchange resins.
The NRC's regulations in 10 CFR 20.2001, "General Requirements," of 10 CFR Part 20, Subpart K, "Waste Disposal," identify the methods by which a licensee may lawfully and safely dispose of its licensed radioactive waste. One such method, set forth in 10 CFR 20.2002, "Method for obtaining approval of proposed disposal procedures," allows "alternative disposal" authorizations. Section 20.2002 is a general provision that allows for alternative disposal methods that are different from those already defined in the regulations, provided that doses are maintained as low as is reasonably achievable (ALARA) and within the dose limits in 10 CFR Part 20. In practice, 10 CFR 20.2002 is most often used for disposal of very low-level waste (VLLW) in hazardous or local solid waste disposal facilities that are permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), but it can be used for other types of disposal not already specifically defined in the regulations, such as disposal on a licensee's site or on offsite private property. The term "very low-level waste" does not have a statutory or regulatory definition, but generally means wastes that contain some residual radioactivity, including naturally occurring radionuclides, which can be safely disposed of in hazardous or municipal solid waste landfills. Such waste is invariably a fraction of the limits for Class A LLW contained in 10 CFR Part 61, "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste."
In 2007, due to developments in the national program for Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW) disposal, as well as changes in the regulatory environment, the NRC staff performed a strategic assessment of its LLRW program. The results of this assessment were documented in SECY-07-0180, "Strategic Assessment of Low-Level Radioactive Waste Regulatory Program." One high priority task (Task 2) in the Strategic Assessment was to address the challenge of alternative disposal of VLLW, in accordance with 10 CFR 20.2002, in non-traditional LLW facilities (such as RCRA facilities) as well as the regulatory review and approval needed for such disposal. In response to stakeholder input regarding the 2007 assessment, the NRC determined that the process for authorizing these disposals needed more clarity. The NRC committed to addressing these concerns through the development of new regulatory guidance.
On August 31, 2009, the NRC issued interim staff procedure, "Review, Approval, and Documentation of Low-Activity Waste Disposals in Accordance with 10 CFR 20.2002 and 10 CFR 40.13(a)." While this guidance was focused primarily on 20.2002, it also provided guidance for 40.13(a) requests for the transfer of unimportant quantities of source material exempt from licensing. Prior to its issuance, there had been no single procedure covering safety and security reviews, the preparation of an environmental assessment, and coordination with internal and external stakeholders for alternative disposal requests. Accordingly, this document was developed and issued to provide consistency and guidance for the NRC staff's review of alternative disposal requests received from licensees, applicants, and other entities for alternative disposal of licensed material. In addition, the NRC determined that this guidance would be finalized after it had been implemented and used for more alternative disposal requests.
In 2016, the NRC staff conducted a new assessment of the NRC's LLW program, the results of which were published in SECY-16-0118, "Programmatic Assessment of Low-Level Radioactive Waste Regulatory Program." The Programmatic Assessment was conducted to identify and prioritize tasks that the NRC can undertake to ensure a stable, reliable, and adaptable regulatory framework for effective LLRW management, while also considering future needs and changes that may occur in the nation's commercial LLW management system. One of the high priority tasks included within the Programmatic Assessment was to address the challenge of alternative disposal of VLLW by finalizing the draft guidance document. Per the Programmatic Assessment, this final draft would be published for public comment and issued as a final document.
Accordingly, the guidance document was revised, a final draft version of the guidance was issued (Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS) Accession No. ML17229B588), and the NRC staff provided notice of the revised draft guidance in the Federal Register (82 FR 48727; October 19, 2017). This Federal Register notice provided background information regarding the draft guidance document and solicited public comments on the revised document; the comment period was reopened and its closure date extended from December 18, 2017 to January 17, 2018 (82 FR 48727).
On April 9, 2020 (85 FR 19966) the NRC issued revised guidance for alternative disposal requests, "Guidance for the Reviews of Proposed Disposal Procedures and Transfers of Radioactive Material Under 10 CFR 20.2002 and 10 CFR 40.13(a)," which provides guidance and the NRC staff process for documenting, reviewing, and dispositioning requests received for alternative disposal of licensed material. The revision incorporates changes made in response to comments received on the draft guidance document, as well as interactions with NRC stakeholders.
Public Involvement in the Alternative Disposal Request Guidance
The NRC has a long-standing practice of conducting its regulatory responsibilities in an open manner. For that reason, the NRC is committed to informing the public about its regulatory, licensing, and oversight activities, and providing opportunities for the public to participate in the agency's decision making process. For general information about the available opportunities for public involvement in NRC activities, see Public Meetings and Involvement, and NUREG/BR-0215, "Public Involvement in the Regulatory Process."
The staff conducted several public meetings during the development of the alternative disposal requests guidance to engage interested stakeholders.