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NRC to End Regulation of Some Low-Intensity Radioactive Waste Disposal

June 22, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has agreed to end controls on the disposal of some low-level radioactive wastes and materials at nuclear plants, hospitals and laboratories, officials said Thursday.

The revised policy, scheduled to be announced next week, is likely to prompt a flood of requests from producers of such wastes that they be allowed to dispose of them the same way as conventional garbage.

The commission has been grappling for years with a revision of federal requirements for low-level radioactive wastes and materials. Currently all such items must be given special handling and may be discarded only in special waste disposasl facilities.

But according to sources in environmental organizations and on the commission staff who spoke on condition that their names not be used, a majority of the five commissioners agreed in recent weeks that wastes emitting radiation below a certain level should no longer be regulated by the agency.

The commissioners approved the revised policy by indicating approval on the policy document, so-called notation voting, and planned no formal vote in an open meeting, agency officials said.

Joe Fouchard, a commission spokesman, confirmed that a majority of the commission had approved the new policy and that details would be announced next week. He said the policy would establish a procedure to consider requests to exempt wastes from federal controls, but provided no figures on what the cutoff would be.

In early 1989, the commission proposed that any radioactive wastes exposing a person to no more than 10 millirems per year should be exempt from special treatment requirements. The electric utility industry has proposed exempting materials emitting twice that amount.

A chest X-ray from modern apparatus could be expected to yield an exposure of about 20 millirems. Typical exposures in the United States from background radiation, including cosmic rays and radioactive rocks, are about 200 millirems to 300 millirems per year.

Jonathan Becker, who has followed the issue for Public Citizen, a Washington-based environmental and consumer group, said that the revised policy would allow as much as a third of the low-level radioactive wastes to be dumped into conventional landfills and through normal sewer systems.

″These efforts to deregulate the disposal of nuclear wastes illustrates the NRC’s and the nuclear industry’s inability to dispose of their radioactive garbage in a safe, sensible manner,″ said Becker.

He estimated that the nuclear industry, hospitals and laboratories could to save $82 million a year because of reduced disposal costs.

The utility and nuclear industries have argued that radiation from these wastes is too low to pose a health threat. ″The associated risks, if any, are quite small compared to other actual risks an individual faces every day,″ John J. Kerney, a member of the health physics committee of the Edison Electric Institute, wrote the commission.

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