RadWaste Monitor Vol. 14 No. 6
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February 12, 2021

NEI Again Asks Judge to Reverse NRC Interpretation of Very Low-Level Waste Guidelines

By ExchangeMonitor

The trade group for the nuclear industry doubled down on a legal argument that the Nuclear Regulatory’s Commission’s 2019 interpretation of very low-level waste disposal guidelines illegally burdened licensees and should be reversed, according to a recent filing with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Moreover, NRC’s 2019 interpretation is not merely repetition of established commission policy but a de facto change in regulation that should have been subject to public comment and which remains fair game for further review, the Nuclear Energy Institute wrote in a Monday filing. Last month, the NRC argued that its 2019 letter was not subject to review and that NEI’s now year-old case should be thrown out of court.

Final briefs are due March 1, a court filing shows. At stake is whether the federal government can let some states regulate very low-level waste disposal without NRC supervision. Very low-level waste is the unofficial term for the least radioactive form of Class A waste: the least hazardous among the three classes designated by the federal government, and which among other things includes incinerator ash from research sites and contaminated debris from demolition of nuclear facilities. 

Such waste is generally disposed of at the four U.S. commercial licensed facilities for low-level waste: EnergySolutions operations in Utah and South Carolina; US Ecology at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site in Washington state; and Waste Control Specialists in Texas.

According to the Institute, NRC’s 2019 letter to industry, in which the commission said the federal government alone has jurisdiction over very low-level radioactive waste disposal, violates the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and the commission’s own regulations

The 2019 interpretation “created new regulatory burdens and enforcement risks” for its licensees that have existing waste disposal agreements with their host states, the Institute said in its latest court filing. 

NRC, meanwhile, says its agency’s interpretation of very low-level waste disposal jurisdiction was not “new or puzzling” legal theory, as the Institute claimed in a prior filing.

Nuclear Deterrence Summit 2021 August 3-5, 2021 Alexandria, VA