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Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Rulemaking

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Existing NRC regulations at 10 CFR 61.55, "Waste Classification," specify criteria for classifying low-level radioactive waste for land disposal at a near-surface facility. The original development of 10 CFR 61.55 did not explicitly consider the impacts resulting from the disposal of unique waste streams, such as significant quantities of depleted uranium from the operation of a commercial uranium enrichment facility. When 10 CFR Part 61, "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste," was initially developed, there were no commercial facilities generating significant quantities of depleted uranium waste streams. As a result, the analysis only considered the types of uranium-bearing waste streams being typically disposed of by licensees at the time. For additional information on the impacts considered in developing 10 CFR Part 61, see the following documents:

  • Draft Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61 Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste (NUREG-0782)
  • Final Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61 Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste (NUREG-0945)

Depleted uranium is a source material, as defined in 10 CFR Part 40, "Domestic Licensing of Source Material," and if treated as a waste would fall under the definition of low-level radioactive waste in accordance with 10 CFR 61.55(a). The Commission reaffirmed this waste classification in Memorandum and Order CLI-05-20, dated October 19, 2005. Consistent with Commission policy to increase the use of risk assessment technology in all regulatory matters, the NRC staff considered in a screening analysis (SECY-08-0147), dated October 7, 2008, whether quantities of depleted uranium at issue in the waste stream from commercial uranium enrichment facilities warrant amending the waste classification tables in 10 CFR 61.55(a) or 10 CFR 61.55(a)(6).

In a Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM-SECY-08-0147), dated March 18, 2009, the Commission directed the staff to pursue a limited rulemaking to specify a requirement for a site-specific analysis and associated technical requirements for unique waste streams including, but not limited to, the disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium. In pursuing this limited rulemaking, the NRC is not proposing to alter the waste classification scheme. However, for unique waste streams including, but not limited to, significant quantities of depleted uranium, there may be a need to impose additional criteria on its disposal at a specific facility or deny such disposal based on unique site characteristics. Those restrictions would be determined through a site-specific analysis, which satisfies the requirements developed through the rulemaking process. In a second SRM, SRM SECY-10-0043, the staff was also directed to include blended LLW streams as part of this rulemaking initiative.

On June 24, 2009, the NRC published an announcement in the Federal Register, (74 FR 30175) to solicit early public input on major issues associated with potential rulemaking for land disposal of unique waste streams including, but not limited to, significant quantities of depleted uranium in near-surface, low-level radioactive waste facilities. Toward that end, the NRC staff hosted public workshops in Rockville, Maryland, on September 2–3, 2009, and in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 23–24, 2009, to discuss issues associated with rulemaking. Agendas for those public workshops were provided in advance through the NRC's Public Meeting Schedule. Following the workshops, the NRC received comments from the public and other interested stakeholders, regarding the issues discussed at the workshops; those comments were submitted through Regulations.gov, under Docket ID NRC-2009-0257.

The staff subsequently developed a technical basis document for the rulemaking amendment, shared it with the NRC Agreement States, and proceeded to develop a proposed rulemaking package. In connection with the rulemaking effort, the staff proposed a two-tier approach for evaluating compliance with Part 61's overall system performance objectives: an assessment that extends to 20,000-years as well as an assessment that extends beyond 20,000 years to the time of peak dose.

On May 18, 2011, the staff sought public feedback on the preliminary proposed rulemaking language and the technical basis for the time of compliance recommendation. That workshop was held in Rockville, Maryland.  Later that year, the staff also briefed the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) on the preliminary proposed rulemaking language. The ACRS’s views were documented in a letter to the Commission dated September 22, 2011.

In SRM COMWDM-11-0002/COMGEA-11-0002, dated January 19, 2012, the Commission provided additional direction to the staff concerning this particular rulemaking. Specifically, the staff was directed to amend the existing draft rulemaking to include the following features (requirements):

  • Allowing licensees the flexibility to use International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) dose methodologies in a site-specific performance assessment for the disposal of all radioactive waste.
  • A two tiered approach that establishes a compliance period that covers the reasonably foreseeable future and a longer period of performance that is not a priori and is established to evaluate the performance of the site over longer timeframes. The period of performance is developed based on the candidate site characteristics (waste package, waste form, disposal technology, cover technology and geo-hydrology) and the peak dose to a designated receptor.
  • Flexibility for disposal facilities to establish site-specific Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC) based on the results of the site’s performance assessment and intruder assessment.
  • A compatibility category for the elements of the revised rule that establish the requirements for site-specific performance assessments and the development of the site-specific WAC that ensures alignment between the States and Federal government on safety fundamentals, while providing the States with the flexibility to determine how to implement these safety requirements.

In the January 2012 SRM, the Commission also directed the staff to engage stakeholders and other members of the interested public to discuss and finalize the agency's approach to address these matters. Accordingly, the staff planned a series of three public meetings in March, May, and July 2012 on proposed revisions to Part 61. The first of these public meetings was scheduled for March 2, 2012, in Phoenix, Arizona.  The NRC staff also encouraged the submission of written comments on the matters to be discussed at these meetings.  After completion of the public outreach campaign, the staff will prepared an amended technical basis document and commence with the rulemaking. Changes was made to the Part 61 companion guidance document to address the new direction.

The NRC staff also briefed the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials Subcommittee, on June 23 and August 17, 2011, and the full committee on July 13 and September 8, 2011.  The NRC staff again briefed the ACRS, Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials Subcommittee, on April 9, 2013, and the full committee on July 10, 2013.

On July 18, 2013, the NRC staff submitted a revised draft proposed rule and associated guidance for Commission review and approval, SECY-13-0075.  The draft proposed rule would update the existing technical analysis requirements for protection of the general population (i.e., performance assessment); add a new site-specific technical analysis for the protection of inadvertent intruders (i.e., intruder assessment); add a new analysis for certain long-lived LLRW; and revise the technical analyses required at closure.  The draft proposed rule would also add a new requirement to develop criteria for the acceptance of LLRW for disposal based on either the results of these technical analyses or on the existing LLRW classification requirements.

In its February 12, 2014, SRM-SECY-13-0075, the Commission approved publication of the proposed rule and the associated draft guidance for public comment, subject to the comments and changes noted in the SRM. The NRC staff issued the proposed rule for Low-level Radioactive Waste Disposal and the draft Guidance for Conducting Technical Analyses for 10 CFR Part 61 on March 26, 2015, for a 120-day Public Comment period. The comment period for the proposed rule and draft guidance document was reopened on August 27, 2015, and closed on September 21, 2015.

The schedule listed below shows the comment timeline for the rulemaking, including multiple meetings that were held with stakeholders during the public comment period.

Event/Milestone Scheduled Date
Public Meeting in Phoenix, AZ March 20, 2015
Issue Proposed Rule and Draft NUREG-2175 for comment March 26, 2015
Public Meeting in Rockville, MD April 28, 2015
Public Meeting in Austin, TX May 12, 2015
Webinar on Guidance for Conducting Technical Analyses for 10 CFR Part 61 May 20, 2015
Public Meeting in Columbia, SC June 2, 2015
Public Meeting in Richland, WA June 9, 2015
Public Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT June 10, 2015
Close of Public Comment Period July 24, 2015
Reopened Public Comment Period August 27, 2015
Close of Reopened Public Period September 21, 2015

The NRC received 2,401 comment letters (including approximately 2,300 form letters) representing individuals, public interest groups, Native American Tribal governments, industry groups, licensees, and state and federal agencies. After considering and responding to the stakeholder comments, the staff developed final rule language and submitted it to the Commission on September 15, 2016 for their review, in SECY-16-0106: Final Rule: Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal (10 CFR Part 61).

The staff briefed the ACRS Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials Subcommittee on the final rule language and draft final guidance document on October 18, 2016, and the full committee on November 3, 2016. The ACRS completed its review and submitted its conclusions and recommendations to the Commission on November 14, 2016, and the staff responded to the ACRS' conclusions and recommendations on December 19, 2016.

On September 8, 2017, the staff received direction from the Commission on the path forward in Staff Requirements – SECY-16-0106 – Final Rule:  Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal (10 CFR PART 61) (RIN 3150-AI92).  The Commission directed the staff to make substantive revisions to the draft final rule and subsequently republish it as a supplemental proposed rule for a 90-day public comment period.  The associated guidance documents must also be revised and should be made publicly available, concurrent with the comment period on the supplemental proposed rule.

In a related effort, discussed under Potential Revision of 10 CFR PART 61, the Commission has directed staff in March 26, 2013, Revised SRM-SECY-13-0001, to end further efforts associated with SECY-10-0165, "Staff's Approach to Comprehension Revision to 10 CFR PART 61" and proceed with the integrated approach to revision 10 CFR Part 61 as described in SECY-13-0001. The Commission directed staff to seek stakeholder input on the need for second rulemaking that would involve more extensive changes to 10 CFR Part 61 and to report back to the Commission on the need to perform this second rulemaking after the "limited rulemaking" discussed in detail above is complete.

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2016 Proposed Final Rule and Guidance

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2015 Proposed Rule Language Changes in Redline/Strikeout

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2015 Federal Register Notices and Documents

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2015 Public Workshop Information

2014 Public Workshop Information

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2012 Public Workshop Information

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2011 Public Workshop Information

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2009 Public Workshop Information

For additional information, see our Frequently Asked Questions about Land Disposal of Unique Waste Streams and our Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium and Other Waste Disposal.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, October 11, 2017