Barnwell Waste Disposal Site Shuts Door to Most States July 1

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said May 29 it has issued updated guidance to fuel cycle and materials licensees that they may need to store some low-level radioactive waste on site for an extended period after the Barnwell, S.C., disposal facility closes to most states on July 1. NRC sets safety requirements for the near-surface disposal of low-level waste, which is classified as Class A, B, or C depending on its hazard and physical characteristics, with about 96 percent of all commercial low-level waste generated in the United States being Class A, the least hazardous.

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act makes states responsible for disposing of low-level radioactive waste and created a system of interstate compacts to create and manage disposal facilities. Three low-level waste disposal facilities exist: a Clive, Utah, facility accepts only Class A waste from licensees in all states; a facility, near Richland, Wash., accepts all classes of low-level waste from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico; and Barnwell has accepted all types of waste from the rest of the country but as of July 1 will accept it from only South Carolina, New Jersey, and Connecticut because of shrinking capacity.

This means licensees in 36 states have no disposal options for Class B and C waste; about 95 percent of such wastes are generated by nuclear power plants, "which have the space, expertise and experience needed to store radioactive wastes for extended periods," according to NRC. The agency's guidance advises licensees to consider ways to minimize the production of Class B and Class C low-level wastes and whether they may need to seek a license amendment to increase their possession limit for radioactive materials as a result of the need to store waste on site. The guidance also addresses considerations such as security, worker safety, and the need to keep track of radioactive materials, including during emergencies, NRC said.

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