NRC Stages Swift Sweeping Rollback During Pandemic

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 2, 2020
Contact: Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade

Vast Amounts of Rad Waste Slated for Disposal by Unlicensed Operators

Washington, DC — As the nation is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is quietly moving to permanently deregulate massive amounts of radioactive waste. NRC wants to abrogate longstanding requirements that, with very limited exceptions, such waste must be disposed of in licensed radioactive waste sites meeting detailed safety standards and subject to NRC inspection and enforcement, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Released in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the NRC plan would, in effect, allow every reactor in the country to dump virtually all its radioactive waste except spent fuel in local regular garbage dumps which are designed for household trash not for plutonium.

Although the proposal declares NRC’s “intent” to limit this deregulation to “very low level radioactive wastes,” the actual proposal allows doses to the public equivalent to more than 900 chest X-rays over a lifetime, with a cancer risk twenty times higher than the upper end of Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable risk range and thousands of times the risk goal for Superfund sites. In addition –

  • Unlicensed radioactive waste dumps under the proposal would be allowed to expose the public to 2.5 times higher levels of radiation than allowed for licensed low-level radioactive waste sites under NRC’s current regulations, thus allowing unlicensed dumps to take all the radioactive waste now required to go to licensed disposal facilities;
  • Both the National Academy of Sciences and EPA calculate that the risk of such doses would be every 500th person exposed getting a cancer from the radiation; and
  • Unlicensed radioactive waste dumps would be established without public notice or opportunity for hearing and free of any subsequent NRC oversight.

“NRC’s action could transform most municipal dumps into radioactive repositories, with essentially no safeguards for workers, nearby residents, or adjoining water tables,” stated PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that plan eliminates the incentive to pay for the additional safety measures, radiation monitoring, health physics personnel, design standards, and NRC inspections required of licensed operators. “This stealth action would functionally deregulate the bulk of the nation’s nuclear waste-stream.”

Despite the magnitude of this change, the NRC claims it is merely an “interpretative rulemaking” that does not trigger review under the National Environmental Policy Act or formal rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. Thus, it could go into effect this month.

“Under this plan, the public would never even know that radioactive waste is being dumped near them, because current requirements of public notice and opportunity for a hearing and independent review by an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board would no longer apply,” added Ruch, noting that the NRC is open for public comment only through April 20th. “Eliminating public health protections during a pandemic is beyond perverse.

Look at the NRC proposal

See NRC PowerPoint accompanying this week’s webinar

View EPA guidance for rad-risk

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