Potential Revision of 10 CFR Part 61

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In Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) M100617B, the Commission directed the staff to outline its approach to initiate activities in connection with a possible risk-informed/performance-based (RI/PB) revision of Title 10, Part 61, of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR Part 61), "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste." In response to that request, the staff prepared SECY-10-0165, "Staff's Approach to Comprehensive Revision to 10 CFR Part 61."

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Before the promulgation of 10 CFR Part 61, no national or international standards defined the level of safety needed to protect the public from disposed low-level waste (LLW). The only existing regulations that defined "safety" were the AEC generic criteria, found at 10 CFR Part 20. These criteria related to workers who were occupationally exposed during the operation of licensed nuclear facilities, and defined the maximum permissible levels of radiation in unrestricted areas.

In October 1978, the staff solicited advice, recommendations, and comments from stakeholders on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that the staff was developing in support of the new 10 CFR Part 61 regulation. The proposed EIS was intended to provide the bases for Commission decisions on the requirements to be set out in the forthcoming regulation. The Commission used the comments received in response to the ANPR to scope and form the content of NUREG-0782, "Draft Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61: Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Wastes," as well as the preliminary draft regulation that the NRC issued for public comment on February 28, 1980 (45 FR 13104). The draft regulation identified the licensing procedures, performance objectives, and technical requirements necessary for the licensing of commercial LLW disposal facilities.

As a result of the generally favorable comments received, the Commission finalized 10 CFR Part 61 in 1982 (47 FR 57446). To support publication of the final rule, the staff also issued NUREG-0945, "Final Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61: Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Wastes," which contained a detailed analysis of the comments received on the draft EIS, as well as the decision bases and staff positions in support of the final regulation. A series of independent analyses also supported the EIS.

The Part 61 regulation applies to any near-surface and above-ground disposal technology for commercial LLW. The regulation covers all phases of LLW disposal from site selection through facility design, licensing, operations, closure, and post-closure stabilization, to the period when active institutional controls end. The regulation also establishes the procedures, criteria, terms, and conditions that the Commission would use to issue and renew existing licenses. The requirements emphasize an integrated systems approach to LLW disposal, including consideration of site selection, site design and operation, waste form, and disposal facility closure. Because of the long periods of time contemplated for the control of radioactive material, 10 CFR Part 61 also emphasizes passive rather than active systems to minimize and retard releases to the environment. To provide flexibility in siting and designing disposal facilities, the Commission devised an LLW classification system based on the half-lives and concentrations of radioactive materials that are expected to be in the wastes. All commercial LLW classes are subject to minimum waste form characteristics.

The Part 61 regulation focuses on the long-term disposal of commercial LLW. In developing the regulation, the Commission employed a top-down, integrated systems approach. It proposed performance goals (objectives) that accounted for both short-term and long-term radiological exposures. As a result, the regulation is oriented toward overall performance objectives that define the safety goals (regulatory policies) to be achieved in waste disposal. The performance objectives are supported by a narrow (minimum) set of prescriptive technical standards that, based on past operating experience, are judged to be important to meeting the overall performance objectives. The intent of this regulatory approach was to give flexibility to LLW disposal facility developers, consistent with a particular geologic and/or geographic setting, in choosing advantageous siting and design features and operating practices necessary to achieve the performance objectives (46 FR 38083). The Commission chose not to include too much specificity in the technical standards, as that would require considerable detailed knowledge about the spectrum of designs, techniques, and procedures for disposing of commercial LLW. Alternatively, the Commission chose to provide prospective applicants with flexibility in deciding how they would meet the performance objectives.

Development of the Part 61 regulation was also based on several assumptions as to the types of waste likely to be deposited in a commercial LLW disposal facility. To better understand the likely inventory of wastes available for disposal, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conducted a survey of existing LLW generators. The survey, documented in Chapter 3 of NUREG-0782 revealed that there were about 36 distinct commercial waste streams consisting of about 24 radionuclides of potential regulatory interest. The specific waste streams in question were representative of the types of commercial LLW being generated at the time. Waste streams associated with the nuclear defense complex administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) were not considered as part of the survey, since disposal of those wastes, at that time, was to be conducted at the DOE-operated sites. Over the last several years, however, a number of developments have called into question some of the key assumptions made in connection with the draft EIS on Part 61:

  • Emergence of potential LLW streams that were not considered in the original Part 61 rulemaking, including large quantities of depleted uranium, blended LLW, and possibly waste incidental to reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel

  • DOE's increasing use of commercial facilities for the disposal of defense-related LLW streams

  • Extensive international operational experience in the management of LLW and intermediate-level radioactive wastes that did not exist at the time Part 61 was promulgated

Staff Initiative to Revise 10 CFR Part 61

The developments described above will need to be considered if the staff undertakes a revision of Part 61. However, the Commission has directed staff in March 26, 2013, SRM-SECY-13-0001, to end further efforts associated with SECY-10-0165, "Staff's Approach to Comprehensive Revision to 10 CFR Part 61" and proceed with the integrated approach to revise 10 CFR Part 61 as described in SECY-13-0001. The Commission directed staff to seek stakeholder input on the need for a second rulemaking that would involve more extensive changes to 10 CFR Part 61 and to report back to Commission on the need to perform this second rulemaking after the "limited rulemaking" discussed in detail at Site-Specific Anaylsis Rule Making is complete.

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Public Workshop to Discuss Potential Revision of 10 CFR Part 61

The NRC conducted a public workshop on March 4, 2011, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix Hotel, to discuss possible approaches to revising the regulatory framework for management of commercial LLW. The purpose of this workshop was to gather information from a broad spectrum of stakeholders concerning the staff's proposed options for a comprehensive revision of 10 CFR Part 61. The staff has also identified the following possible options, which were discussed with stakeholders as part of the meeting:

  • Risk-informing the current Part 61 waste classification framework
  • Comprehensive revision of Part 61
  • Site-specific waste acceptance criteria
  • International alignment
  • Superseding direction given in the Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) regarding SECY-08-0147, "Response to Commission Order CLI-05-20 Regarding Depleted Uranium"

This workshop was conducted jointly with DOE, which is considering revisions to its Radioactive Waste Management Order (DOE Order 435.1).

The joint public workshop was organized in two sessions (one for each agency). Session I addressed DOE Order 435.1, and included an opportunity for stakeholder feedback and comments. Session II addressed the NRC's proposal for a comprehensive revision of 10 CFR Part 61, "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste," as well as background presentations on SECY-10-0165. Following Session II, there was a joint DOE/NRC Panel Discussion to explain the agencies' respective positions, future plans, and specific views regarding LLW management framework. The panel also addressed suggestions and comments from stakeholders, including the public.

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Review the Workshop Materials

Meeting Date Description
03/04/2011 Public workshop to discuss possible options for a comprehensive revision of 10 CFR Part 61 (Phoenix, Arizona).

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, August 09, 2017