Morning Briefing - April 09, 2019
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April 09, 2019

NRC Breaching Federal Rules on Oversight of VLLW Disposal, Industry Group Says

By ExchangeMonitor

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in stepping on federal law and its own regulations in re-assuming authority over disposal of “very low-level” radioactive waste by some facilities in agency agreement states, according to the trade group for the nuclear industry.

In a Feb. 28 letter to the NRC, Nuclear Energy Institute General Counsel Ellen Ginsberg called on the agency to formally rescind a 2016 regulatory update and return to its position set in 1986.

The letter was posted to the NRC website last week. In an April 4 response, the regulator acknowledged receiving Ginsberg’s letter, and said a more detailed reply would be sent at a later date.

There are currently 38 agreement states to the NRC, which assume much of the authority for regulating nuclear facilities within their borders. In a 1986 information notice, the agency determined it had no legal standing to review and rule on requests for disposal from nuclear reactor facilities in those states for very low-level radioactive waste – an unofficial designation for the least radioactive form of Class A waste.

However, in a November 2016 regulatory issue summary, the NRC said a subsequent regulatory review resulted in a 2012 finding that the 30-year-old document “did not provide the correct information regarding regulatory approval to dispose of very low-level waste.”

Licensed production and utilization facilities – in this case, effectively meaning commercial power reactors – must request disposal approval from the NRC even if they are located in an agreement state, according to the update.

While the 1954 Atomic Energy Act sets out two areas in which the NRC retains authority over low-level waste disposal in agreement states, the 2016 finding expands beyond those limits, NEI said. “To the contrary, the Commission allows Agreement States to regulate LLW disposal,” Ginsberg wrote.

She added that a 1985 memorandum from the NRC Office of Executive Legal Director specifically found that the Atomic Energy Act and NRC regulations require the agency to “maintain authority” for handling and storage of low-level waste at reactor sites, but that disposal outside the site would fall under the purview of the agreement states.