The public has 60 days to weigh in on a proposal to modify the fashion in which the Department of Energy classifies “high-level radioactive waste” (HLW), following publication Wednesday of a formal notice in the Federal Register.
The Energy Department announced last Thursday it would seek to classify HLW more on its radioactive traits and less on its source of origin. That could expedite the process for final disposal of some of that material, now stored at DOE sites around the country.
The Washington, D.C.-based Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), which represents local governments around Energy Department properties, has pressed for the update. Much of the material in question is not truly high-level waste, according to the nongovernmental group.
Both the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 say not all wastes from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel are high-level. Until a policy decision is made, DOE “will continue its current practice of managing all its reprocessing wastes as if they were HLW unless and until a specific waste is determined to be another category of waste,” according to the notice.
ECA Director of Nuclear Programs Kara Colton said Wednesday the group intends to file comments prior to the Dec. 10 deadline. She noted, though, that even if the department revises its interpretation of high-level waste, that could be undone by a future presidential administration. So ECA still intends to ask Congress for legislation addressing the definition of high-level waste.
“We are not that far down the road with legislation,” Colton said.
The DOE-level reinterpretation might not be a slam dunk. Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Nevada, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen, have expressed misgivings. “This move to reinterpret the definition of high-level nuclear waste is nothing more than a backdoor Yucca Mountain,” Titus said in a press release last week. “By redefining the term ‘high-level nuclear waste,’ various communities across the country will be given the greenlight to ship hazardous, radioactive materials to Nevada without our consent,” Rosen said.
Comments on the DOE proposal can be sent to HLWnotice@em.doe.gov.
It is believed DOE has no timetable yet for a decision.