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Very Low Level Waste

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10 CFR Part 61, "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste," provides licensing procedures, performance objectives, and technical requirements for the issuance of licenses for the land disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW). There are four waste classifications in the regulation arranged according to their hazard – Classes A, B, C and Greater-Than Class C. The majority of LLRW by volume is Class A waste. It represents nearly 90% of all LLRW generated.

The lowest portion of Class A waste has been referred to as Very low-level waste (VLLW), also known as "low-activity waste" (LAW). The term VLLW is not a formal designation and does not have a statutory or regulatory definition. In general VLLW contains some residual radioactivity, including naturally occurring radionuclides, which may be safely disposed of in hazardous or municipal solid waste landfills. Such waste possesses a small fraction of the hazard of waste at the Class A limits in 10 CFR Part 61. VLLW current disposal options are Part 61 low level waste facility or in some instances VLLW could be disposed under the provisions of 10 CFR 20.2002, "Method for obtaining approval of proposed disposal procedures." With more decommissioning waste anticipated, the volume of LAW is expected to increase in the future.

In 2007, due to developments in the national program for 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." The Strategic Assessment identified the need to coordinate with other agencies on consistency in regulating LAW disposal and to develop guidance that summarizes disposition options for low-end materials and waste. The Strategic Assessment also designated promulgating a rule for disposal of LAW as a low priority.

In 2016 the NRC staff conducted a programmatic assessment of the LLRW program, SECY-16-0118, 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 LLRW management system. The programmatic assessment identified the need to finalize guidance for 10 CFR § 20.2002 requests to improve alternate disposal process as a high priority. Performing a LAW scoping study was designated as a medium priority. The LAW scoping study task combines several tasks originally in the 2007 strategic assessment and includes: coordinating with other agencies on consistency in regulating LAW; determining the impact of LAW disposal from radiological dispersal devices; and developing regulatory options that would define the conditions under which LAW, including mixed waste, could be disposed of in RCRA Subtitle C hazardous waste facilities. The LAW scoping study has been renamed as the VLLW scoping study to be more consistent with the current regulatory structure.

The purpose of the VLLW Scoping Study is to identify the actions that the NRC should take to strengthen its regulatory framework for VLLW. The regulatory focus is on developing a framework for accommodating the large volumes of VLLW associated with decommissioning of nuclear power plants, as well as alternative waste streams that may be created by fuel reprocessing and new types of nuclear facilities.

The VLLW study will consider the divergent stakeholder comments submitted as part of the 2016 programmatic assessment; lessons learned from the "below regulatory concern" policy statements published in the Federal Register on July 3, 1990 (55 FR 27522), and August 29, 1986 (51 FR 30839); lessons learned from the Commission's 2005 decision not to publish a proposed rule (the "Clearance" rule) on radiological criteria for controlling the disposition of solid materials; best practices of other countries with respect to VLLW disposal; and other factors to inform the NRC staff's recommendation for addressing VLLW. The scope of the study will also include work with other government agencies to evaluate the impact of large quantities of VLLW that would result from cleanup if a radiological dispersal device or similar device were used in the United States, and to ensure that VLLW resulting from such devices has a disposal pathway. The staff will proactively engage the Commission on any policy issues identified during the VLLW scoping study.

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Public Involvement

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 has conduct public meetings during the development of the very low-level waste scoping study to engage interested stakeholders.

Date Description

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Low-Level Radioactive Waste Program Public Meeting


U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Very Low-Level Radioactive Waste Scoping Study and Greater Than Class C Waste Public Meeting


The objective of this meeting is to discuss NRC's LLRW regulatory program from interested members of the public

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, April 12, 2018