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Report to the Chairman, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. 
Senate:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

June 2004:

Low-Level Radioactive Waste:

Disposal Availability Adequate in the Short Term, but Oversight Needed 
to Identify Any Future Shortfalls:

GAO-04-604:

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-04-604, a report to the Chairman, Committee on Energy 
and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate 

Why GAO Did This Study:

Low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) management concerns persist despite 
enactment of the LLRW Policy Act of 1980, as amended, which made states 
responsible for providing for disposal of most LLRW. It also enumerated 
guidance and oversight responsibilities for DOE and NRC. When GAO last 
reported on LLRW disposal, in 1999, the only existing facility 
accepting the more highly radioactive types of LLRW (known as class B 
and C waste) from most states was expected to be full within 10 years. 
In this context, GAO examined (1) changes in LLRW conditions since 
1999, (2) recent annual LLRW disposal volumes and potential future 
volumes, (3) any current or anticipated shortfalls in disposal 
availability, and (4) potential effects of any such shortfall.

What GAO Found:

GAO identified several changes in LLRW disposal availability and 
federal agency oversight since its 1999 report that have had or might 
have significant impacts on LLRW management by the states. For example, 
while one disposal facility plans to close to most states and new 
options are evolving that may counteract this shortfall, federal 
guidance and oversight of LLRW management has virtually ended. 

Annual LLRW disposal volumes increased 200 percent between 1999 and 
2003, primarily due to LLRW shipped to commercial disposal by DOE. GAO 
identified this increase using data from the three commercial disposal 
facility operators because GAO determined that data from the national 
LLRW database, maintained by DOE to assist the LLRW community in 
managing LLRW, were unreliable. The uncertain timing and volume of 
future waste shipments from DOE and nuclear utilities make it difficult 
to forecast disposal needs for all classes of LLRW. 

At current LLRW disposal volumes, disposal availability appears 
adequate until at least mid-2008 for class B and C wastes. There are no 
expected shortfalls in disposal availability for class A waste. If 
disposal conditions do not change, however, most states will not have 
a place to dispose of their class B and C wastes after 2008. 
Nevertheless, any disposal shortfall that might arise is unlikely to 
pose an immediate problem because generators can minimize, process, 
and safely store waste. While these approaches are costly, GAO did not 
detect other immediate widespread effects. NRC places no limit on 
stored waste and presently does not centrally track it. However, as 
LLRW storage volume and duration increase in the absence of reliable 
and cost-effective disposal options, so might the safety and security 
risks.

Lowering Radioactive Waste into a Concrete Barrier at a Commercial 
Disposal Facility: 

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

What GAO Recommends:

The Congress may wish to consider directing NRC to report if LLRW 
disposal and storage conditions change enough to warrant congressional 
intervention. GAO also recommends that DOE halt dissemination of its 
on-line LLRW database as long as it has internal control weaknesses 
and other shortcomings. NRC disagreed that it was the most appropriate 
entity to prepare this report. DOE disagreed that it should halt 
dissemination of LLRW information despite known problems with its 
database. GAO remains firm in its suggestion to the Congress and in 
its agency recommendation.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-604.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Robin Nazzaro, (202) 
512-3851, Nazzaror@gao.gov.

[End of section]

Contents:

Letter:

Results in Brief:

Background:

Since 1999 LLRW Disposal Availability and Federal Oversight Have 
Changed:

Annual LLRW Disposal Volumes Have Increased, but Future Volumes Are 
Uncertain:

LLRW Disposal Availability Appears Adequate Until Mid-2008:

Any LLRW Disposal Shortfall After Mid-2008 Unlikely to Pose Immediate 
Problem:

Conclusions:

Recommendations for Executive Action:

Matters for Congressional Consideration:

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

Appendix I: Overview of Existing Commercial LLRW Disposal Facilities:

Barnwell Disposal Facility:

Envirocare Disposal Facility:

Richland Disposal Facility:

Appendix II: LLRW Legislative Options:

Appendix III: Scope and Methodology:

Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of Energy:

GAO Comment:

Appendix V: Comments from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

GAO Comments:

Figures:

Figure 1: Conceptual Flow Diagram of Radioactive Sources from 
Production to Disposal:

Figure 2: State LLRW Compacts and Unaffiliated States:

Figure 3: Location of Three Commercial LLRW Disposal Facilities:

Figure 4: Delivery of a Large Reactor Vessel to the LLRW Trench at the 
Barnwell Disposal Facility:

Figure 5: Rail Unloading Facility Associated with Class A Bulk Waste 
Disposal at the Envirocare Disposal Facility:

Figure 6: LLRW Disposal Trench at the Richland Disposal Facility:

Abbreviations:

AEC: Atomic Energy Commission: 
DOE: Department of Energy: 
EPA: Environmental Protection Agency: 
LLRW: Low-level radioactive waste: 
MIMS: Manifest Information Management System: 
NRC: Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

United States General Accounting Office:

Washington, DC 20548:

June 10, 2004:

The Honorable Pete V. Domenici: 
Chairman: 
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:
United States Senate:

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The management of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) by the states has 
continued to be a concern despite two-decade-old federal legislation 
addressing the need for disposal. Under the LLRW Policy Act of 1980, as 
amended (the Act), each state is responsible for providing for disposal 
of LLRW generated within the state, either by itself or in cooperation 
with other states, with the exception of waste produced by the 
Department of Energy (DOE) and the nuclear propulsion component of the 
Department of the Navy. While not responsible for this federal waste, 
an LLRW disposal facility is allowed to accept it. LLRW is an 
inevitable byproduct of nuclear power generation and of government, 
industrial, academic, and medical uses of radioactive materials. LLRW 
includes items such as rags, paper, liquid, glass, metal components, 
resins, filters, and protective clothing that have been exposed to 
radioactivity or contaminated with radioactive material. The Nuclear 
Regulatory Commission (NRC) has divided the wastes covered by the Act 
into categories of increasing levels of hazard exposure, beginning with 
Class A, followed by B and C.[Footnote 1]

The aim of the Act was to provide for more LLRW disposal capacity on a 
regional basis and to more equitably distribute responsibility for the 
management of LLRW among the states. As an incentive for states to 
manage waste on a regional basis, the Congress consented to the 
formation of interstate agreements, known as compacts, and granted 
compact member states the authority to exclude LLRW from other compacts 
or unaffiliated states.[Footnote 2] DOE and NRC were given 
responsibilities to help guide and oversee implementation of the Act. 
DOE was to provide both financial and technical assistance to states 
and interstate compacts to develop disposal facilities, in addition to 
reporting annually to the Congress on management of LLRW by the states. 
Technical assistance was to include, among other things, providing 
guidance on waste disposal site selection, waste reduction methods, and 
transportation practices, as well as establishing a computerized 
database to assist the states and DOE in monitoring the management of 
LLRW. NRC's enumerated tasks included preparing licensing standards for 
disposal facilities, and granting individual waste generators emergency 
access to a regional or other nonfederal disposal facility if necessary 
to eliminate any immediate and serious threat to the public health and 
safety or for the common defense and security. In addition to these 
responsibilities, NRC is responsible under the Atomic Energy Act for 
licensing, among other things, the possession and disposal of 
radioactive materials, and for inspecting licensees to ensure safe and 
secure use of these materials. Under the Atomic Energy Act, NRC can 
enter into agreements with states, known as Agreement States, to 
discontinue its regulatory responsibilities with respect to byproduct, 
source, and certain quantities of special nuclear materials. These 
responsibilities relinquished to states include licensing LLRW disposal 
facilities.[Footnote 3]

There are currently three licensed commercially operated LLRW disposal 
facilities. Each of these disposal facilities operates under different 
access and licensing restrictions. The commercial facility near 
Barnwell, South Carolina, is allowed to accept all classes of LLRW from 
the three member states of the Atlantic Compact, as well as waste from 
36 other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.[Footnote 4] 
The commercial facility near Richland, Washington, is allowed to accept 
all classes of LLRW, but only from the 11 member states of the 
Northwest and Rocky Mountain Compacts. And, the commercial facility 
operated by Envirocare of Utah, which, like the Richland facility, is 
located in the Northwest Compact, is allowed to accept class A waste 
from all states except those in the Northwest Compact. (See app. I for 
an overview of existing commercial LLRW disposal facilities.)

When we last reported on LLRW disposal in 1999, we found that states 
were not developing new disposal facilities and that within 10 years 
the only facility available to waste generators in most states for 
their class B and C wastes could be full.[Footnote 5] Our report noted 
that this situation raised questions about the willingness of the 
states, under authorities granted to them in the Act, to develop new 
facilities. Our report also assessed options that the Congress could 
take to deal with a disposal shortfall if there were no change in 
conditions. (See app. II for a discussion of legislative options.) In 
this context, you asked us to report on (1) any changes in LLRW 
conditions since our 1999 report, (2) recent LLRW annual disposal 
volumes and potential future volumes, (3) any current or anticipated 
shortfalls in LLRW disposal availability, and (4) potential effects of 
any such shortfall.

To conduct our work, we interviewed regulators and disposal operators 
in the states that have or are proposing LLRW disposal facilities. We 
also spoke with representatives from DOE, NRC, a nuclear power 
association, environmental groups, LLRW generators, Department of 
Defense executive agent for LLRW, and an independent nonprofit 
association of LLRW stakeholders. We obtained disposal volume data 
directly from the three commercial facility operators and compared 
these data with information contained in DOE's online national LLRW 
database. This comparison and other analyses were used to assess the 
usefulness and reliability of this database in estimating disposal 
volumes. We also reviewed applicable laws and regulations, including 
the Atomic Energy Act, as amended, and the LLRW Policy Act, as amended. 
Finally, to identify any potential effects of a disposal shortfall, we 
sought information from groups likely to know about such effects: state 
and compact officials, and those engaged in the practice, science, or 
technology of radiation safety. Specifically, we surveyed officials 
from all compacts and unaffiliated states, and sent a separate e-mail 
questionnaire to the approximately 2,000 subscribers of the Radsafe 
Listserv for radiation safety officers. We also placed a notice in the 
Health Physics Society newsletter, which has a circulation of about 
6,000, and asked for volunteers to answer the same questions that we 
had sent to the Radsafe Listserv subscribers. Our work was conducted in 
conformance with generally accepted government auditing standards 
between August 2003 and May 2004. (See app. III for further information 
on the scope and methodology of our review.)

Results in Brief:

Since our September 1999 report, we identified several changes that 
have had or might have significant effects on LLRW disposal 
availability and federal oversight. The changes that might have 
implications for long-term disposal availability include South 
Carolina's decision to close the Barnwell disposal facility to 
noncompact states by mid-2008, issuance of a license to Envirocare to 
accept class B and C wastes pending approval by the Utah legislature 
and governor, Texas legislation to allow the licensing of a new 
disposal facility in that state, and a federal appellate court ruling 
against Nebraska for reneging on its compact obligations to build a new 
disposal facility, which might prompt the state to reconsider 
development of a facility. Regarding changes in federal agency guidance 
and oversight of LLRW management by the states, DOE no longer has 
specific appropriated funds to support a National Low Level Waste 
Management Program, and the requirement that DOE report to the Congress 
on LLRW conditions terminated effective May 2000. Further, in the late 
1990s, NRC decreased its direct involvement in LLRW management because 
no new disposal sites were being developed that would involve NRC 
licensing or the provision of technical assistance to state agencies 
that would license such a facility.

Annual LLRW disposal volumes have increased in recent years; however, 
the timing and level of future volumes needing disposal are uncertain. 
According to data provided by the three commercial LLRW disposal 
facility operators, disposal volumes grew to about 12 million cubic 
feet in 2003, an increase of 200 percent over 1999. Class A waste 
accounted for 99 percent of the disposal volume. The recent increases 
in disposal volumes are attributed to shipments of class A waste 
associated most with cleaning up DOE sites and some decommissioning 
waste from nuclear power plants; about 78 percent of the class A waste 
in 2003 came from DOE. We relied on data from these operators because 
the online national LLRW database maintained by the department lacked 
data on DOE waste shipped to commercial disposal facilities, it was not 
up to date, and it had other deficiencies. For example, some of the 
deficiencies in the database included discrepancies between amounts of 
waste disposal operators claimed they disposed and that which DOE 
recorded as accepted, and erroneous attribution of waste generation to 
states from which it did not originate. Notwithstanding problems 
obtaining complete and reliable LLRW data, uncertainties will remain 
regarding the timing and volume of LLRW needing disposal in the future, 
which will largely depend on the disposal decisions made by DOE and 
nuclear utility companies.

There appears to be enough disposal availability to serve the nation's 
needs at least until mid-2008, when generators in many states might 
lose disposal access for their class B and C wastes. Disposal 
availability for class A waste is not a problem in the short or longer 
term. According to Envirocare, which accepted 99 percent of the 
nation's class A waste in 2003, the disposal facility can take 20 years 
or more of such waste under its current license. Capacity at the 
Barnwell and Richland facilities, which are licensed to accept all 
three classes of LLRW, is more than sufficient to serve the needs of 
the states within the compacts served by these facilities. However, 
there are an additional 36 states that currently rely on Barnwell as 
their only disposal option for their class B and C wastes. While there 
appears to be available space at Barnwell to meet their anticipated 
disposal needs in the short term, South Carolina has enacted 
legislation to terminate noncompact states' access to this facility 
after mid-2008. Unless South Carolina changes its position, or 
additional disposal capacity is made available, there will not be 
disposal options for class B and C wastes generated within these states 
in the longer term.

If after 2008, there are no new disposal options for class B and C 
wastes, licensed users of radioactive materials can continue to 
minimize waste generation, process waste into safer forms, and store 
waste pending the development of additional disposal options. While NRC 
prefers the disposal of LLRW, on-site storage is allowed as long as the 
waste remains safe and secure. Since September 11, 2001, both the 
public's concern with and its perception of risk associated with 
radioactive release, including that from stored LLRW, have increased. 
However, should an immediate and serious threat exist from any specific 
location of stored waste, NRC has the authority under the Act to 
override any compact restrictions and allow shipment of the waste to a 
regional or other nonfederal disposal facility under narrowly defined 
conditions. While use of waste minimization techniques and storage can 
alleviate the need for disposal availability, they can be costly. For 
example, one university recently built a $12 million combined hazardous 
and radioactive waste management facility of which two-thirds is 
devoted to the processing and temporary storage of class A waste. Apart 
from the cost of managing LLRW, the survey we conducted of state and 
compact officials and the responses to questions we sent to two other 
LLRW stakeholder groups did not uncover any widespread national impacts 
if LLRW generators were to face limited or no disposal options in the 
short term. For example, given the opportunity to inform us of any 
concerns regarding the lack of a disposal option for LLRW, only 14 of 
the 2,000 radiation safety officers surveyed responded, and only 1 of 
these respondents raised a concern. In addition, a 2001 National 
Research Council report concluded that it would take 10 to 20 years 
before the lack of an LLRW disposal option might adversely impact 
biomedical research or clinical practice.

Although no shortfall in disposal availability appears imminent, 
uncertainties about future access to disposal facilities remain, such 
as the development of new disposal options and the increased safety and 
security risks associated with longer-term storage of LLRW. Therefore, 
continued federal oversight of disposal availability and the conditions 
of stored waste is warranted. However, as a result of decreased federal 
oversight and a national LLRW database with known shortcomings, there 
is no central collection of information to monitor this situation. 
Given that NRC is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the 
use, storage, and disposal of radioactive materials, and DOE's changed 
role in LLRW management, we believe that NRC is now the most 
appropriate agency to report to the Congress on LLRW conditions. 
Recognizing the deficiencies in the national LLRW database, we 
recommend that the Secretary of Energy halt dissemination of 
information from it as long as these deficiencies persist. Considering 
the need for federal oversight, the Congress may wish to direct NRC to 
report to it if LLRW disposal and storage conditions should change 
enough to warrant consideration of new legislation to ensure safe, 
reliable, and cost-effective disposal availability.

DOE and NRC commented that we provided an accurate summary of current 
LLRW disposal conditions and potential issues that may be encountered 
in the future. DOE disagreed with our recommendation pertaining to its 
national online LLRW database. However, in doing so, DOE did not 
address our concerns about internal control weaknesses and other 
shortcomings in the database. We stand by our recommendation to DOE 
because we believe that it is inappropriate to disseminate information 
that is known to be incomplete and unreliable. NRC disagreed with our 
suggestion that the Congress consider directing it to gather 
information and to report on LLRW disposal and storage conditions. In 
commenting on our draft report, NRC provided information on data 
gathering actions already in place or planned that would adequately 
ensure the safety and security of radioactive materials, including the 
storage of LLRW as an alternative to its disposal. Given these actions 
and the concerns of NRC with the regulatory cost of complying with any 
new data gathering requirements, such as additional rulemaking, we 
eliminated our suggested congressional directive in this regard. 
However, we maintain that NRC is now the most appropriate agency to 
report to the Congress if LLRW disposal and storage conditions should 
change enough to warrant congressional intervention. We incorporated 
technical changes in this report where appropriate based on detailed 
comments provided by the agencies.

Background:

The disposal of LLRW is only the end of the radioactive material life 
cycle that spans its production, use, processing, interim storage, and 
disposal. In general the cycle starts with procurement of the 
radioisotopes that have medical, industrial, agricultural, and research 
applications. The isotopes come in either sealed or unsealed sources. 
While a metal container shields a sealed source, unsealed sources 
remain accessible in a glass vial or other type of container. Common 
uses of this radioactive material are in radiotherapy, radiography, 
smoke detectors, irradiation and sterilization of food and materials, 
gauging, and illumination of emergency exit signs. In the course of 
working with these materials, other material, such as protective 
clothing and gloves, pipes, filters, and concrete that come in contact 
with them will become contaminated. The nuclear utility industry 
generates the bulk of this LLRW through the normal operation and 
maintenance of nuclear power plants, and when these plants are 
decommissioned. Once these materials have served their purpose, they 
are recycled or become LLRW. LLRW can be processed by those licensed to 
use these materials or by specialized companies to reduce the volume 
and sometimes the radioactivity level of the waste before it is either 
put into a licensed interim storage or a disposal facility. After a 
period of storage, some LLRW can decay to the point that it is safe for 
disposal in regulated landfill sites. During the life cycle, there will 
also be some loss of radioactive materials. Figure 1 diagrams the life-
cycle process for radioactive materials.

Figure 1: Conceptual Flow Diagram of Radioactive Sources from 
Production to Disposal:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Back in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) began to 
encourage the development of commercial LLRW disposal facilities, as a 
substitute for ocean disposal, to accommodate the increased volume of 
commercial waste that was being generated. Six such disposal facilities 
were licensed, two of which, the facility in Richland, Washington, 
licensed in 1965, and in Barnwell, South Carolina, licensed in 1971, 
remain open today to accept class A, B and C wastes.[Footnote 6] Each 
of these facilities is located within the boundaries of or adjacent to 
a much larger site owned by DOE. The third facility, operated by 
Envirocare of Utah, is about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The state 
initially licensed the Envirocare facility in 1988 to accept naturally 
occurring radioactive waste. In 1991, Utah amended the license to 
permit the disposal of some LLRW and the Northwest Compact agreed to 
allow Envirocare to accept these wastes from noncompact states. By 
2001, the facility was allowed to accept all types of class A waste.

Despite estimates by a nuclear industry association that expenditures 
may now have reached approximately $1 billion on various facility 
development efforts, no new commercial LLRW disposal facility has been 
developed since passage of the Act, except for the Envirocare facility, 
which was not developed at the instigation of the compact in which it 
exists. In our 1999 report, we found that the impetus to develop new 
disposal facilities was dampened by a combination of factors that 
included significant decreases in LLRW generation, available capacity 
at the three existing facilities to meet national disposal needs, and 
rising costs of developing disposal facilities. Development costs were 
a concern because these costs and operating costs would need to be 
covered by the disposal fees placed on uncertain and perhaps limited 
LLRW generated within a compact. Developing new LLRW disposal 
facilities also encountered public and political resistance in states 
designated to host these facilities. There are presently 10 compacts 
comprised of 43 states; the Appalachian, Atlantic, Central, Central 
Midwest, Northwest, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Southeast, Southwestern, 
and Texas compacts. There are also 7 unaffiliated states, as well as 
the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A graphic of the state LLRW 
compacts and unaffiliated states is provided in figure 2.

Figure 2: State LLRW Compacts and Unaffiliated States:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Since 1999 LLRW Disposal Availability and Federal Oversight Have 
Changed:

We identified a number of important changes that have occurred since 
our 1999 report that have had or might have significant effects on 
future disposal availability for these wastes and federal oversight of 
LLRW management by the states. The following changes that might have 
implications for long-term disposal availability include:

* In 2001, South Carolina legislation restricted the use of the 
Barnwell disposal facility to only generators in the three-member 
Atlantic compact after mid-2008. Presently, this facility is the only 
disposal option for the class B and C wastes generated in 36 other 
states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Approaching the 
threshold of capacity at Barnwell is not a new concern. In the past, 
the state legislature has changed its position on restricting access to 
this facility, both closing and reopening the facility to noncompact 
member states over the years.

* In 2001, Envirocare received a license from the state regulatory 
authority to accept class B and C wastes pending approval by the Utah 
legislature and governor. Currently, the state has imposed a moratorium 
on approving the use of this license until February 2005, after a 
review of the recommendations of a hazardous waste regulation and 
policy task force. The legislative task force was set up to conduct a 
two-year study of how facilities in Utah that accept radioactive waste 
or radioactive materials for processing or reprocessing compare to 
other facilities in terms of competitive fees and tax structure. The 
task force is expected to issue its final report by November 2004. 
Granting approval for Envirocare to use its class B and C wastes 
license to accept these wastes nationally might eliminate any shortfall 
in disposal availability for class B and C wastes resulting from 
restricted access to the Barnwell disposal facility.

* In 2003, Texas legislation designated a geographic area in the state 
as acceptable for a new LLRW disposal facility, and the state regulator 
developed a license application process for this facility. If a 
facility license is granted, the facility operator will be allowed to 
accept all classes of LLRW, as well as DOE site cleanup wastes. It has 
taken Texas two decades to garner the political support to move forward 
with developing a new disposal facility that would be privately 
operated instead of through a public entity. Access, however, may be 
granted only to generators in selected states outside of the Texas 
Compact. On the other hand, if access is granted nationally, the Texas 
disposal facility might eliminate any shortfall in disposal 
availability for class B and C wastes resulting from restricting access 
to the Barnwell disposal facility.

* In 2004, a federal appellate court ruling has renewed discussions in 
Nebraska about building a disposal facility for the 5-member state 
Central Compact. The Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a 
federal district court decision that Nebraska, as a designated host 
state, is liable for $151 million in damages for reneging on its 
obligations to the Central Compact to build a disposal facility by 
denying a license application for reasons not related to the merits of 
the application.[Footnote 7] While Nebraska may appeal this decision to 
the U.S. Supreme Court, the appeals court decision might encourage 
Nebraska to reconsider building a disposal facility and affect the 
decisions of other states that have prior obligations to build new 
disposal facilities for their respective compacts.[Footnote 8]

The remaining changes affect federal agency guidance and oversight of 
LLRW management by the states.

* In 2001, DOE significantly diminished its involvement in guiding and 
overseeing LLRW management by the states. DOE's reporting requirement 
on LLRW management, as originally required by the Act,[Footnote 9] 
terminated effective May 2000.[Footnote 10] The department's last 
report to the Congress covered the 1998 LLRW management situation. 
DOE's technical assistance activities under the Act have also 
essentially ended after a period of shifting emphasis and decline. 
According to a DOE Inspector General's report, starting in 1996, the 
department shifted its technical assistance to states and compact 
regions from developing LLRW disposal facilities to providing 
assistance on, among other things, tracking and storing waste.[Footnote 
11] The report found that the department's shift in technical 
assistance was a reaction to the states' inability to overcome barriers 
to disposal site selection. The funding level for the program in the 
late 1990s was about $4 million annually. In fiscal year 2000, the 
Congress did not appropriate funds for DOE's National Low-Level Waste 
Management Program, with the exception of about $600,000 to maintain 
the online LLRW national database, known as the Manifest Information 
Management System (MIMS), that was a component of this program. Since 
then, DOE has not received appropriated funds specifically to support a 
National Low-Level Waste Management Program.[Footnote 12] Instead, 
according to DOE, it has requested and has been appropriated funds each 
fiscal year to purchase and maintain the MIMS database, although not as 
an identifiable line item in its budget.

* Since the late 1990s, NRC has decreased its direct involvement in 
LLRW management by the states because no new disposal sites were being 
developed and Agreement States have taken on more of these 
responsibilities. However, the perceived security risks of stored LLRW 
have heightened since 2001 because of the potential to use some of this 
material in radioactive dispersal devices, sometimes known as "dirty 
bombs." While NRC has set no time limits on the storage of LLRW, as 
long as it is safe, it prefers disposal. Agency officials told us that 
implementation of the Act has not resulted in reliable and cost 
effective disposal options for generators. They added that while 
storage is presently safe, they are concerned about the future safety 
and security of the increasing volumes of LLRW stored by thousands of 
licensees who have decided not to pay high disposal fees today, and who 
might not have disposal options for class B and C wastes in the future. 
NRC is in the process of conducting vulnerability studies of both 
reactor and radioactive materials licensees, including those with LLRW 
storage and disposal. According to agency officials, the result of 
these assessments will include recommendations for graded approaches to 
security enforcement based on the overall risk of particular 
facilities. In addition, NRC has surveyed the states to determine if 
new regulations should be developed for assured isolation facilities. 
The Commission decided to defer further rulemaking in this area and to 
review the need for future action annually, including the potential 
need for rulemaking and or regulatory guidance for long-term storage of 
LLRW. The Commission also directed NRC staff to participate, as 
resources allow, in the Conference of Radiation Control Program 
Directors' development of a suggested State regulation for control of 
radiation in assured isolation facilities. Notwithstanding these 
actions, NRC officials told us that the agency does not centrally track 
disposal availability or the volume and duration of stored LLRW.

Annual LLRW Disposal Volumes Have Increased, but Future Volumes Are 
Uncertain:

Annual LLRW disposal volumes have increased significantly in recent 
years, primarily the result of cleaning up of DOE sites and 
decommissioning nuclear power plants. We chose to rely on disposal 
volume data from the three commercial disposal facility operators 
because the MIMS database does not include DOE waste volumes sent to 
commercial disposal, it is not as up to date, and it has other 
deficiencies. Future disposal volumes remain uncertain and will depend 
largely on waste disposal decisions by DOE and nuclear utility 
companies.

LLRW Disposal Volumes Increased Significantly since 1999:

Since the beginning of 1999, disposal volumes have steadily increased 
to over 12 million cubic feet in 2003, an increase of over 200 percent. 
Class A waste accounted for 99 percent of this volume. Data from 
disposal facility operators indicate that annual disposal volumes for 
class A waste tripled, going from about 4 million cubic feet in 1999 to 
nearly 12 million cubic feet by 2003. The class A waste disposed of at 
Envirocare represented 99 percent of the total volume in 2003, and 
about 78 percent of this waste came from DOE. According to the disposal 
facility operator, DOE has increased its shipment of waste to the 
facility from initially about 36,000 cubic feet in 1994 (6.6 percent of 
the class A waste disposed) to almost 9.3 million cubic feet in 2003 
(77.8 percent of the class A waste disposed). In contrast, disposal 
volumes of class B waste declined 47 percent, from about 23,500 cubic 
feet in 1999, to about 12,400 cubic feet in 2003. Class C waste 
disposal volumes were more volatile, changing as much as 107 percent in 
a single year. The total annual disposal volume of class C waste 
alternately rose and fell between 1999 and 2003, with the annual total 
reaching over 20,000 cubic feet in 1999, falling as low as about 11,000 
cubic feet in 2002, then rising over 23,000 cubic feet in 2003. Of the 
total class B and C wastes disposed of in 2003, 99 percent went to 
Barnwell. Overall annual changes in disposal volume were driven by 
shipments of class A wastes, which are generated primarily by cleanup 
of DOE sites. Class B and C waste disposal volumes were affected by 
commercial nuclear power plant decommissioning activities, but these 
classes of waste represented slightly less than 0.5 percent of total 
volume of disposed waste between 1999 and 2003.

Concerns about Usefulness and Reliability of National LLRW Database:

We chose not to use MIMS, which DOE maintains and operates for the LLRW 
community and public, to determine recent disposal volumes or to use 
other information in this database to analyze sources of LLRW by state, 
compact, and generator type because of shortcomings in its usefulness 
and reliability. Instead, we relied on data supplied to us by the three 
commercial disposal operators for our analysis because it includes DOE 
waste volumes sent for commercial disposal, it is more up to date, and 
because it is the primary source data input into the national LLRW 
database.

Even though DOE ships large quantities of LLRW to a commercial disposal 
facility, this useful information is not captured in MIMS. Other types 
of useful information, such as storage of waste and volume of waste 
reduction, are also not collected in this database.[Footnote 13] The 
consensus among the compact and unaffiliated state officials we 
surveyed was that they could more effectively regulate and monitor LLRW 
in their compacts and states if MIMS offered more comprehensive and 
reliable data. Despite these shortcomings, these officials have 
sometimes used MIMS data as a convenient source of information for 
public, media, and stakeholder inquiries, as a means of monitoring LLRW 
within their compact or region, and as an external check on the LLRW 
interstate shipment data reported to compact and state regulators by 
the disposal operators.

We also identified shortcomings in the reliability of the MIMS 
database. We identified inconsistencies between what the disposal 
facility operators claimed had been disposed of at their facilities and 
what was recorded in this database. For example, the volumes of LLRW 
reported to us by Envirocare for 1999 to 2003 totaled 10.4 million 
cubic feet, compared to the 15.7 million cubic feet that was reported 
in MIMS.[Footnote 14] There were also problems with other kinds of data 
in MIMS. States and compacts have identified discrepancies that 
undermine the data's usefulness, particularly regarding the state-
specific information on the origins of waste. For example, Tennessee, 
which is the base of operations for companies that transport and 
process the waste from generators in other states prior to disposal, 
reports that it is erroneously recorded in MIMS as the state of origin 
of this waste.

The data DOE puts into MIMS comes from the three commercial LLRW 
disposal facility operators in electronic format. DOE pays each 
operator varying amounts of money to extract data from the records 
accompanying shipments of LLRW that provide information on the volume, 
radioactivity level, source, and other information about the waste. 
These records are called manifests and NRC requires their use to track 
shipment of radioactive materials. The disposal operator then transmits 
some of this information to DOE for entry into MIMS. Each disposal 
facility operator is responsible for ensuring the validity of these 
data, but DOE's contracts with these operators leave to them what 
steps, if any, should be taken to validate the data. DOE takes no 
responsibility for verifying the accuracy of the data supplied by the 
disposal facility operators. Furthermore, while DOE takes some steps to 
ensure that it accurately uploads operator-supplied data into MIMS, it 
does not perform other systematic quality checks on the data, such as 
"reasonableness" checks, cross tabulations, or exceptions reports. As a 
result, we determined that the lack of consistent and comprehensive 
internal controls, such as controls over information processing, 
undermine our confidence in the data output in MIMS for several types 
of information, including sources of waste coming from states, 
compacts, and generator types.[Footnote 15]

Uncertainties Surround Projecting Future LLRW Disposal Volumes:

Notwithstanding problems obtaining reliable and complete LLRW disposal 
data, uncertainties remain concerning the timing and volume of LLRW 
needing disposal in the future, which largely will depend on the 
disposal decisions made by nuclear utility companies and DOE, as well 
as on possible changes in regulatory standards for what constitutes 
LLRW. The pace of nuclear power plant decommissioning has been slower 
than expected. Nuclear utility industry officials and federal officials 
told us that beyond the few nuclear power plants now being 
decommissioned, only a small number of plants are expected to be 
decommissioned in the next 20 years or more. The economics of 
electricity generation make it desirable for most utilities to keep 
their existing nuclear power plants running, in some cases even making 
investments to upgrade and extend the operating life of the reactors. 
Moreover, the nuclear power industry has aggressively minimized the 
amount of LLRW it produces, both in absolute volume and in decreasing 
the amount of the more radioactive class B and C wastes by, for 
example, changing some kinds of filters more often before radioactivity 
concentrates at higher levels.

Recent DOE experiences cleaning up its sites underscore how difficult 
making useful projections can be. Officials at DOE told us that such 
projections for sites now being cleaned up have not proven very 
accurate, and have tended to significantly overestimate waste volumes 
that would require disposal as LLRW. There are several reasons cited 
for this difficulty: records from "legacy" sites--former nuclear 
weapons production sites that DOE is cleaning up--have not proven to be 
reliable; the decay rate of known buried radioactive wastes have often 
been higher than expected so wastes that were expected to need disposal 
as LLRW can instead be legally classified as radioactive waste mixed 
with nonradioactive but hazardous wastes and sent to less expensive 
disposal facilities; contractors have become more innovative and 
skilled in sorting and segregating hazardous and mixed wastes from LLRW 
so that a higher percentage of wastes can be disposed of as hazardous 
or mixed wastes rather than LLRW; and some debris and material from 
site cleanup projected to be LLRW has no appreciable radioactivity when 
generated and can therefore be disposed in sanitary landfills or other 
non-LLRW disposal facilities. Moreover, there are some indications that 
the volume of DOE cleanup waste likely to be sent to commercial LLRW 
disposal facilities is currently at or near a peak and will soon 
rapidly decline as cleanup at some DOE sites winds down and as cleanup 
activity shifts to other DOE sites that have considerable on-site 
disposal capacity. As a result, DOE officials expect the use of 
commercial LLRW disposal facilities to start declining after 2006 and 
to stay comparatively low until another anticipated spike in 2014. DOE 
officials stressed, however, that "high confidence numbers" are not yet 
available because the department is still in the process of 
reorganizing and developing new baselines for its accelerated cleanup 
projects, and it does not have a management system in place to develop 
corresponding waste projections.

Potential changes to the threshold at which waste is classified as LLRW 
that is currently under consideration could also affect the amount of 
waste needing disposal in the future. The National Research Council and 
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are separately studying this 
issue and considering possible changes that might affect the future 
management of LLRW. The National Research Council is studying the issue 
because members of its Board on Radioactive Waste Management are 
concerned that the statutes and regulations that govern LLRW management 
may be overly restrictive; in some cases, leading to excessive costs 
and other burdens on the waste generator and, in other cases, possibly 
leading to an exaggeration of the potential risks posed by these 
materials. EPA is examining its existing waste regulations and has 
begun the process of soliciting public comment as it considers new 
rulemaking in this area. Specifically, EPA is exploring an option with 
NRC to establish a regulatory framework that allows some of the lower 
activity radioactive waste to be disposed of at non-LLRW disposal 
facilities.[Footnote 16] Finally, and in a similar vein, there has been 
discussion by government and industry LLRW stakeholders of harmonizing 
U.S. standards with prevailing international standards for LLRW under 
consideration by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Such a change 
could prompt consideration by U.S. regulators to raise the threshold at 
which the radioactivity of waste would trigger regulation as LLRW, and 
would allow for lower activity LLRW to be disposed of under other 
regulatory regimes.

LLRW Disposal Availability Appears Adequate Until Mid-2008:

There appears to be enough disposal availability to serve the nation's 
needs at least until mid-2008, when many states might lose disposal 
access for their class B and C wastes. Disposal availability for class 
A waste does not pose a problem under current conditions. According to 
Envirocare representatives, their disposal site, which accepted over 99 
percent of the nation's class A waste in 2003, has enough capacity to 
accept this waste at the current volume levels for more than 20 years. 
The Richland facility has about 21 million cubic feet of capacity 
remaining for all classes of waste, which is more than enough to 
accommodate the LLRW coming from the 11 states in the Northwest and 
Rocky Mountain compacts until the expected closure of this facility in 
2056. The Barnwell disposal facility has about 2.7 million cubic feet 
of remaining capacity, most of which has been set aside for waste from 
generators in the Atlantic Compact until 2050. Barnwell also appears to 
have enough disposal capacity to continue accepting class B and C 
wastes from other states until mid-2008, when it is scheduled to close 
to all but the three Atlantic compact states. According to the Director 
of Disposal Services at Chem-Nuclear Systems, the operator of the 
Barnwell facility, there should be enough space at the facility to 
accommodate the typical 20,000 to 25,000 cubic feet of class B and C 
wastes accepted at this facility in recent years. This representative 
told us that many generators have already contracted to dispose of 
their B and C wastes in the short term, and any generator outside of 
the Atlantic Compact anticipating a need to dispose of these wastes 
could still contract for the necessary space until mid-2008.

A number of factors support the likelihood that disposal space for 
class B and C wastes will be available at Barnwell until mid-2008, if 
disposal volumes do not exceed anticipated levels. Based on current 
space commitments at this disposal facility under conditions of the 
volume caps set by the South Carolina legislature, there remains a 
range of 24,500 to 44,500 cubic feet of uncommitted space until 
2008.[Footnote 17] The amount of space available depends on whether 
Atlantic Compact generators use all of their set-aside space through 
2008. In addition, utilities are likely to take more aggressive efforts 
to ensure sufficient space for class B and C wastes at Barnwell. 
Industry officials said utilities might consider several initiatives 
and conditions that could alleviate the diminishing disposal 
availability for class B and C wastes. For example, utilities could 
send class A waste to Envirocare rather than Barnwell to save the 
remaining space at Barnwell for class B and C wastes. In addition, 
utilities might increase waste reduction efforts and storage.

After 2008, disposal availability for the class B and C wastes 
generated in the 36 states outside the Northwest, Rocky Mountain, and 
Atlantic compacts is more uncertain. Disposal availability for these 
states will depend on a number of possibilities including extending 
access to Barnwell beyond mid-2008, or creating new disposal options 
for these classes of waste. The Barnwell facility has opened and closed 
to noncompact member states before and it could happen again. Given the 
difficulties of attracting class A waste to Barnwell because of the 
high disposal fees, and the fairly consistent level of class B and C 
wastes shipped to this site each year, the facility might not even 
reach its volume cap of 35,000 cubic feet per year after 2008. In 
addition, the set-aside of 2.2 million cubic feet for Atlantic Compact 
generators through 2050 may be negotiated downward, freeing up 
additional space at this disposal facility. There is also some 
possibility that new disposal options will become available in the 
future that could alleviate any disposal crisis for class B and C 
wastes. We mentioned these disposal options in the previous section on 
changes since 1999 in LLRW disposal availability and federal oversight. 
Finally, regardless of the outcome, representatives of the Nuclear 
Energy Institute, the policy organization of the nuclear energy 
industry, said that utilities, the greatest generator of class B and C 
wastes, have the ability to store these wastes on site if they have no 
disposal option.

Any LLRW Disposal Shortfall After Mid-2008 Unlikely to Pose Immediate 
Problem:

If after mid-2008, there are no new disposal options for class B and C 
wastes, licensed users of radioactive materials can continue to 
minimize waste generation, process waste into safer forms, and store 
waste pending the development of additional disposal options. These 
approaches, however, can be costly, with a higher financial burden on 
some licensees than others. Notwithstanding these business costs, we 
did not detect other effects of any shortfalls in disposal availability 
that might have wider implications.

LLRW Minimization and Storage Can Lessen Effects of any Disposal 
Shortfall:

The licensed users of radioactive materials that must eventually 
dispose of their LLRW have employed a variety of techniques to both 
minimize and process this waste to reduce its volume prior to storage 
and eventual disposal.[Footnote 18] These techniques include 
substitution of nonradioactive materials for radioactive materials, 
separation of radioactive materials from nonradioactive materials, 
recycling, compaction, dilution, and incineration. For example, it is 
reported that most large research institutions make concerted efforts 
to find suitable and appropriate alternatives to the use of radioactive 
materials. One university official told us that such efforts have 
reduced LLRW generation at his institution by 30 percent in the last 5 
years. The Electric Power Research Institute is encouraging nuclear 
utilities to use vendor volume reduction programs for resins, the 
single largest component of class B and C wastes, to reduce volume. 
Some licensees have used processors to super-compact class A waste to 
achieve up to a 5,000 percent reduction in volume, or to reduce this 
waste to ash through incineration, albeit increasing the concentration 
of radioisotopes.

In addition to minimization of LLRW, licensees can decide to store this 
waste when no disposal option is available to them. In order to obtain 
a license to possess radioactive materials, entities must demonstrate 
the technical capability to safely manage them. Various reasons are 
given for storing waste, including allowing short-lived radioactive 
materials to decay to innocuous levels to avoid the need for disposal 
in a more expensive LLRW facility, the prohibitively high cost of 
disposal for some licensees, and concerns about the potential liability 
of sending the waste to a disposal site. Universities and biomedical 
companies generally rely on storage for decay for their LLRW, although 
finding space within large research institutions in urban settings is 
more difficult. The high cost of LLRW disposal can also pose financial 
problems for some licensees. Over the last 25 years, disposal costs 
have risen from $1 per cubic foot of LLRW to over $400 per cubic foot, 
with projections of well over $1,000 per cubic foot in the future. For 
some LLRW, the Barnwell disposal facility now charges $1,625 per cubic 
foot. These disposal costs can reach hundreds of millions of dollars 
for utility companies that are decommissioning their nuclear power 
plants. NRC reported to us that the cost to fully decommission a plant 
can run as high as $675 million. Finally, some licensees will not send 
their LLRW to disposal facilities because they are concerned that the 
mixing of their waste with other waste might draw them into litigation 
if the disposal site should ever require cleanup under the 
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act 
of 1980, as amended (commonly referred to as Superfund).

While NRC policy favors disposal rather than storage over the long-
term, since the mid-1990's, the Commission has allowed on-site storage 
of LLRW without a specified time limit as long as it is safe. The 
Commission took this approach in part because LLRW can be stored and 
the states were not developing any new disposal facilities. According 
to the agency, NRC and Agreement State license and inspection programs 
help ensure the safe management of stored LLRW. However, some licensees 
are concerned that a fire, flood, or an earthquake might cause an 
unintended radioactive release. If an emergency ever should arise from 
stored LLRW, NRC has authority under the Act to override any compact 
restrictions to allow shipment of LLRW to a regional or other 
nonfederal disposal facility, if necessary under narrowly defined 
conditions, to eliminate an immediate and serious threat to the public 
health and safety or to the common defense and security.[Footnote 19] 
Since September 11, 2001, the perception of the risks posed by 
potential use of stored LLRW by terrorists has increased. A recent 
report found that at least a few radioisotopes of greatest security 
concern are classified as LLRW.[Footnote 20] According to the report, 
while radiological dispersal devices, such as a dirty bomb, are not 
weapons of mass destruction, they could cause mass disruption, 
dislocation, and adverse financial consequences associated with 
decontamination and rebuilding. NRC officials told us that as the 
volume and duration of stored LLRW increases so might the safety and 
security risks.

LLRW Minimization and Storage Can Be Costly:

While waste minimization and storage can alleviate the need for 
disposal, they can be costly. The licensees that we interviewed 
provided many examples of the high cost of managing LLRW. For example, 
one university recently built a $12 million combined hazardous and 
radioactive waste management facility of which two-thirds is devoted to 
the processing and temporary storage of class A waste. And, a medical 
center official took us to a small (12' x12') LLRW interim storage and 
processing room that cost the institution about $150,000 to construct 
to meet stringent health and environmental standards. There are also 
costs associated with operating storage facilities. Representatives 
from one university system told us that about $100,000 is spent 
annually to maintain its interim storage building in a remote area of 
the state. Added to the cost of building and operating a storage 
facility is the cost of securing it. Such costs have been accounted for 
in higher utility rates, university overhead charges, drug prices, and 
medical treatments. These costs of doing business are more difficult 
for some entities to absorb than others. For example, representatives 
from several biotechnology companies told us that the industry, 
particularly the smaller start-up companies, are not prepared for the 
financial cost of storing and securing LLRW.

No Other Widespread Effects Detected of Shortfall in LLRW Disposal 
Availability:

Notwithstanding the cost of minimizing and storing LLRW, we did not 
detect widespread national impacts on LLRW generators that have 
resulted or might result from any disposal shortfalls. In an effort to 
identify any such effects, we initially asked some questions on our 
survey of compact and unaffiliated state LLRW officials regarding 
documented effects on LLRW generators of any restricted disposal 
availability. Virtually no citations were provided or current concerns 
raised. We then sought information from a broader constituency in a 
further attempt to find evidence of such effects. We collaborated with 
medical researchers at the University of Texas to seek information from 
two overlapping groups involved in LLRW management: the approximately 
2,000 subscribers of the RadSafe Listserv, a listserv for radiation 
safety officers, and the approximately 6,000 members of the Health 
Physics Society, a scientific and professional organization whose 
members specialize in occupational and environmental radiation 
safety.[Footnote 21] We sought information on any known cases where 
there have been or might be adverse effects on research activities and 
clinical practice stemming from costs or difficulties related to the 
storage and disposal of LLRW. Specifically, we e-mailed questionnaires 
asking if these factors have caused or might cause a discontinuance or 
disapproval of any research or clinical endeavors to RadSafe Listserv 
subscribers and placed a notice in the Health Physics Society's 
newsletter asking for volunteers to answer the same questions we sent 
to the listserv subscribers. We obtained an extremely low response rate 
to these questions--14 responses from listserv subscribers and 6 from 
Health Physics Society members. Because these were nonprobability 
sample surveys the results are not generalizable and can only be used 
for anecdotal purposes. Of these respondents, only two said that the 
difficulties associated with LLRW had adversely affected research or 
clinical practice. Several respondents cited the challenges of dealing 
with LLRW, but also noted that they work around the difficulties 
through waste minimization, including substituting nonradioactive 
materials for radioactive materials when possible, and on-site storage 
as needed. The survey results provided no evidence of any widespread 
effects on research activities and clinical practice stemming from 
costs or difficulties related to the storage and disposal of LLRW in 
the last 5 years.

We also had limited success in identifying published reports on the 
possible effects that lack of LLRW disposal options might have on waste 
generators. We identified a report supported by DOE that surveyed LLRW 
generators in Michigan during a period when they had no disposal 
alternative from 1990 to 1995. The survey found that storage costs were 
actually a small cost for most businesses, and that few broader 
socioeconomic effects were noted.[Footnote 22] Another report reviewed 
the potential impact of LLRW management policies on biomedical research 
in the United States. The 2001 National Research Council report 
concluded that the central issue was the cost of managing LLRW, and not 
access to disposal facilities.[Footnote 23] The report found that it 
would take 10 to 20 years before a lack of LLRW disposal options might 
have an adverse effect on biomedical research or medical care. However, 
the report cautioned that if use of radioisotopes increases or the use 
of longer half-life radioisotopes increases in the future, the system 
of LLRW storage, monitoring, inspection, and disposal might not be 
adequate to meet the needs of this expansion.

Conclusions:

Although no shortfall in disposal availability appears imminent, 
uncertainties remain about future access to disposal facilities. Even 
with the prospect of new disposal options, there is no guarantee that 
they will be developed or be available to meet national needs for class 
B and C wastes disposal. While LLRW generators have options available 
to mitigate any future disposal shortfall, including storing waste, 
storage is costly and it can lead to increased safety and security 
risks. Therefore, continued federal oversight of disposal availability 
and the conditions of stored waste is warranted.

Federal oversight is necessary to oversee disposal availability and the 
conditions of stored waste. However, DOE and NRC have reduced their 
oversight of LLRW management by the states. DOE's involvement is now 
limited to maintaining its online national LLRW database, which has 
internal control weaknesses and other shortcomings. At the same time, 
DOE has become the largest LLRW generator shipping to commercial 
disposal facilities and thus has become a part of the system on which 
it was initially supposed to report. NRC's involvement with LLRW 
management has similarly decreased because no new disposal facilities 
were being developed, and an increasing number of Agreement State 
agencies have taken over many responsibilities for overseeing 
radioactive material use, storage, and disposal. As a result of this 
decreased federal oversight and a national LLRW database with known 
deficiencies, there is no central collection of information to monitor 
disposal availability and the conditions of stored LLRW.

Given that NRC is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the 
use, storage, and disposal of radioactive materials, and DOE's changed 
role in LLRW management, we believe that NRC is now the most 
appropriate agency to report to the Congress on LLRW conditions.

Recommendations for Executive Action:

We recommend that the Secretary of Energy halt dissemination of 
information contained in the online national LLRW database as long as 
the database has internal control weaknesses and shortcomings in its 
usefulness and reliability.

Matters for Congressional Consideration:

The Congress may wish to consider directing NRC to report to it if LLRW 
disposal and storage conditions should change enough to warrant 
congressional evaluation of alternatives to ensure safe, reliable and 
cost effectiveness of disposal availability.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

We provided a draft of this report to DOE and NRC for their review and 
comment. DOE's written comments are reproduced in appendix IV. DOE 
agreed with our assessment that disposal availability is adequate for 
the near future. DOE disagreed with our recommendation to halt 
dissemination of information in its national LLRW database. DOE stated 
that our report did not adequately characterize the usefulness of MIMS, 
and that removal of the national LLRW database without an alternative 
would evoke criticism from states and regional compacts and would not 
fulfill the requirement in the Act to maintain such a database. Our 
recommendation did not call for removal of this database. Instead, we 
recommended halting dissemination of information in this database as 
long as the database has internal control weaknesses and shortcomings 
in its usefulness and reliability. This action might only temporarily 
restrict access to the online national LLRW database. DOE did this for 
about 2 months in late 2003 and early 2004 to correct system problems 
with MIMS. With regard to the usefulness of MIMS, our report noted that 
state and compact officials use MIMS to respond to public inquiries and 
to monitor LLRW; however, the consensus among the officials we surveyed 
was that they could more effectively regulate and monitor LLRW if MIMS 
offered more comprehensive and reliable data. DOE did not address our 
concerns about internal control weaknesses and other shortcomings in 
the database. We stand by our recommendation to DOE because we believe 
that it is inappropriate to disseminate information that is known to be 
incomplete and unreliable.

NRC's written comments are reproduced in appendix V. NRC commented that 
we provided an accurate summary of current LLRW disposal conditions and 
potential issues that may be encountered in the future. NRC disagreed 
with our suggestion that the Congress consider directing it to gather 
information necessary to monitor the adequacy of LLRW disposal 
availability and the safety and security of stored waste, and to report 
to the Congress on significant changes in LLRW disposal and storage 
conditions. In commenting on our draft report, NRC provided information 
on data gathering actions already in place or planned that it contends 
would adequately ensure the safety and security of radioactive 
materials, including stored LLRW, which is an alternative to disposal. 
Given these actions and the concerns of NRC with the regulatory cost, 
such as new rulemaking, associated with gather information on LLRW 
disposal and storage conditions, we eliminated this suggested 
congressional directive. In regard to our reporting suggestion, NRC 
commented that it believes that such monitoring and reporting, if 
necessary, would fall within the responsibility of DOE as was 
previously recognized by the Act. However, as our report noted, the 
Congress eliminated DOE's reporting responsibilities under the Act and 
no longer specifically appropriates funds to support a National Low-
Level Waste Management Program. Given the need for continued federal 
oversight of LLRW conditions, we maintain that NRC is now the most 
appropriate agency to report to the Congress if LLRW disposal and 
storage conditions should change enough to warrant congressional 
intervention.

We incorporated technical changes in this report where appropriate 
based on detailed comments provided by the agencies.

As agreed with your office, we will make copies of this report 
available to others upon request. In addition, the report will be 
available at no charge on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-3841 or Dan Feehan, Assistant Director, at 
(303) 572-7352. Major contributors to this report include Doreen 
Feldman, Curtis Groves, Alan Kasdan, Thomas Laetz, Cynthia Norris, 
Daniel Semick, Richard Shargots, and Kevin Tarmann.

Sincerely yours,

Signed by: 

Robin M. Nazzaro: 
Director, Natural Resources and Environment:

[End of section]

Appendix I: Overview of Existing Commercial LLRW Disposal Facilities:

There are currently three commercial disposal facilities operating in 
the country, two of which were part of the group of six facilities 
established back in the 1960s. The facilities in Barnwell, South 
Carolina, and Richland, Washington, are the only ones that remain open 
today. Each of these facilities is located adjacent to or within the 
boundaries of a much larger site owned by DOE. The third facility is 
located outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Figure 3 shows the location of 
three commercial disposal facilities.

Figure 3: Location of Three Commercial LLRW Disposal Facilities:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Barnwell Disposal Facility:

The Barnwell disposal facility was opened in 1969, but the actual 
license to use about 17 acres of land for shallow burial of LLRW in 
Barnwell County, South Carolina, was issued in 1971. This commercial 
site is located near the much larger Savannah River Site owned by DOE. 
In 1976, the site was expanded to its present size of 235 acres with an 
original capacity to hold 30.6 million cubic feet of all classes of 
radioactive waste and some other types of waste.

Compact Affiliation:

South Carolina is the current host state for the Atlantic Compact; the 
compact comprises South Carolina, Connecticut, and New Jersey. South 
Carolina was originally in the 8-member Southeast Compact that was 
ratified by the Congress in 1985. However, in 1995, the state withdrew 
from this compact to become an unaffiliated state primarily because 
another member of the compact, North Carolina, had failed to develop a 
new disposal facility as planned by 1992. In 2000, the state joined the 
Northeast Compact. The name of the Northeast Compact was later changed 
to the Atlantic Compact to better characterize the geographic 
affiliation of the three member states. During the history of South 
Carolina as a compact state and an unaffiliated state, the state 
legislature has only restricted national access to the Barnwell 
disposal facility for one year, between July 1994 and June 1995, 
excluding some temporary access restrictions placed on Michigan between 
1990 and 1995, and North Carolina between 1995 and 2000.

State Regulators:

Three state regulatory entities have roles and responsibilities 
associated with the operation of the Barnwell disposal facility. The 
South Carolina Budget and Control Board owns the land that is set aside 
for the LLRW disposal, and it will assume responsibility for the site 
after it closes. Among other responsibilities, this board approves the 
disposal rates and authorizes the import of out-of-compact waste to 
Barnwell. In conjunction with the South Carolina Public Service 
Commission, the board determines allowable operating costs that can be 
charged by the operator. The operator is reimbursed for these operating 
costs and is allowed a 29 percent margin above most of these costs. As 
South Carolina is an Agreement State, the Department of Health and 
Environmental Control has licensing and technical regulatory authority 
over Barnwell.

Disposal Operator:

Chem-Nuclear Systems has operated the Barnwell disposal facility 
continuously since it opened. In 2000, this company became a subsidiary 
of Duratek, Incorporated, which had purchased the owner of Chem-Nuclear 
Systems, Waste Management Nuclear Services. According to company 
officials, there are about 100 Duratek employees at the Barnwell 
facility, of which 60 to 70 deal with the disposal operations and 
retain the Chem-Nuclear Systems name. About 10 years ago there were 
about 350 employees at Barnwell, when disposal intake was higher.

Current Conditions:

The Barnwell disposal facility is reaching its capacity. About 102 
acres of the 235-acre site has been filled, with about 13 acres left 
for disposal. According to company officials, there is about 2.7 
million cubic feet of space remaining. The vast majority of this 
remaining space, about 2.2 million cubic feet, has been set aside for 
the decommissioning of the 12 nuclear power plants in the three state 
compact region. The decommissioning waste is anticipated at about 
12,000 cubic feet per facility annually, beginning around 2031 and 
lasting for about 20 years. Each facility is expected to produce much 
more LLRW, but much of this waste will likely be shipped to Envirocare 
of Utah.

The Barnwell disposal facility is planned for closure to out-of-compact 
waste by mid-2008. In 2001, the South Carolina legislature imposed 
volume caps on the amount of waste that could be accepted at Barnwell. 
Between 2001 and 2008, the facility is allowed to accept decreasing 
levels of waste until it reaches a steady state level of 35,000 cubic 
feet in 2008. State officials told us that the legislature set the cap 
at 35,000 cubic feet to provide revenues sufficient to cover operating 
costs and all other obligations; however, at current disposal rates, 
the breakeven volume intake might be as low as 20,000 cubic feet 
annually. These caps were based on an earlier task force report that 
provided a "road map'" for discontinuing South Carolina's national role 
in providing disposal and ensuring that capacity would remain to serve 
the future needs of South Carolina generators.

Barnwell has the highest disposal rates among the three commercial 
disposal facilities. In part, the rates have increased over the years 
with the additions of special fees, taxes, and surcharges. Noncompact 
generators have increasingly paid far more to dispose their waste than 
generators within the compact states, especially South Carolina 
generators, that receive a 33 percent rebate on their disposal fees. 
The 2003 rate for compact generators does not exceed about $400 per 
cubic foot for any class of waste, whereas for noncompact waste coming 
from processors with importation agreements, it is set at $1,625 per 
cubic foot. The most sizeable increase in disposal fees came in 1995, 
when South Carolina imposed a $235 per cubic foot tax on the LLRW 
accepted by Barnwell. In fiscal year 2002, of the approximately $34 
million in gross disposal receipts from waste coming to Barnwell, about 
$11.6 million went to the operator, and most of the remaining 66 
percent went to the state, primarily to support education programs.

Notwithstanding the existing caps on the volume of waste that can be 
accepted at Barnwell through mid-2008, there are some indications that 
the legislature may reconsider its position on these caps. First, there 
has been a shortfall in the volume of waste that has actually come to 
Barnwell in the last 3 years. Company officials told us that this 
shortfall is 60,592 cubic feet. Negotiations are taking place to 
determine if this shortfall can be added to the cap levels over the 
next several years to make up the difference. Second, two utilities 
that had committed space at Barnwell have decided not to send a reactor 
vessel and several steam generators to this facility. This would free 
up even more space, if it were made available. Finally, other space 
might become available if prior allocation commitments to the 12 
nuclear power plants in the Atlantic Compact are revised downward, 
given changes in how to manage the decommissioning of nuclear power 
plants. The Electric Power Research Institute is working with utilities 
on reducing their space needs at Barnwell. Figure 4 shows the delivery 
of a large reactor vessel to the LLRW trench at the Barnwell disposal 
facility.

Figure 4: Delivery of a Large Reactor Vessel to the LLRW Trench at the 
Barnwell Disposal Facility:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Envirocare Disposal Facility:

Since 1988, Envirocare has operated a 540-acre disposal facility 80 
miles west of Salt Lake City. The facility is located in Tooele County 
within a 100-square mile hazardous waste zone that includes two 
hazardous waste incinerators, the Army's nerve gas storage site, and 
the Army's Dugway Proving Grounds. Prior to the low-level waste 
disposal site, DOE used the area for the disposal of uranium mill 
tailings. Much of the waste disposed at Envirocare comes from cleanup 
of commercial and government facilities. Also, Envirocare is the only 
commercial disposal facility to accept mixed waste, which is a 
combination of radioactive and hazardous waste. In 2003, Envirocare 
took about 99 percent of the nation's class A waste.

Compact Affiliation:

While Utah is part of the Northwest Compact, which includes seven other 
states, it is not the host state for the compact's LLRW disposal 
facility. Originally, Utah approved Envirocare's operation for 
accepting naturally occurring radioactive material--large volume, low 
activity low-level radioactive wastes. In 1991, recognizing that the 
Northwest Compact planned to exercise its exclusionary authority at the 
beginning of 1993, Utah and Envirocare sought a resolution from the 
Compact that would allow this disposal facility to continue to accept 
these specific types of low-level waste once the compact exercised its 
exclusionary authority.[Footnote 24] Realizing that proposed disposal 
facilities in other states and compacts were not designed to take 
wastes of such large volume, the Northwest Compact adopted a resolution 
and order that allowed continued access to Envirocare by those states 
that met the milestone requirements of the Act.[Footnote 25] In 1995, 
the resolution and order were amended to include a provision that 
states and compacts in which low-level waste is generated, including 
the Northwest Compact, must authorize any shipment of this waste to 
Envirocare. This was done to ensure that states and compacts maintain 
control over the disposition of LLRW generated within their state or 
compact. The resolution and order was also amended to delete the 
provision regarding the statutory milestone requirements since those 
milestones were no longer relevant. According to the executive director 
of the Northwest Compact, the compact retains the right to modify or 
rescind this authorization at any time. In 1998, Utah issued a license 
amendment for Envirocare to accept all types of class A low-level 
waste. To date, the Northwest Compact has not approved sending LLRW 
generated within the compact states, including Utah, to the Envirocare 
disposal facility.

State Regulators:

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has licensing and 
regulatory authority for the Envirocare facility. Envirocare's license 
has been amended at least 10 times to allow more types of radioactive 
waste including in 1991 when the state permitted disposal of low-level 
waste, in 1995 when Envirocare became the only commercial disposal 
facility licensed for mixed waste, and in 2001 when Utah approved an 
amendment for Envirocare to accept all types of class A waste.[Footnote 
26]

On July 9, 2001, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality approved 
Envirocare's license application to accept class B and C wastes. 
Appeals were filed and on February 10, 2002, the department affirmed 
the approval. In March 2003, the Governor of Utah signed a bill placing 
a moratorium on any acceptance of class B or C wastes through February 
15, 2005, and requiring legislative and gubernatorial approval for 
acceptance of these wastes. Enactment of the bill also created a task 
force composed of 16 state legislators to study radioactive waste, 
hazardous waste, and commercial solid waste issues in the state, 
including state policy and an evaluation of fees and taxes imposed on 
these wastes. The task force will issue a report with specific 
recommendations by November 30, 2004, on, among other things, whether 
the state should accept class B and C wastes.

Disposal Operator:

Envirocare, a privately owned company, has operated the disposal 
facility since its inception in 1988. The company said it has about 400 
employees and about 250 employees are directly involved with low-level 
radioactive waste operations. Unlike the Barnwell and Richland sites, 
Envirocare owns the disposal site land. NRC normally requires 
institutional ownership of disposal sites in post-closure.[Footnote 27] 
However, at the inception of a license for the disposal facility in 
Utah the state's Department of Environmental Quality established a 
national precedent when it exempted the site from rules requiring 
institutional ownership. At the time, Utah regulations contained a 
section compatible with NRC's rule that disposal from other persons 
would be permitted only on land owned by the federal or state 
government. Nevertheless, Utah did not have legislative authority to 
own land used for disposal of LLRW. While the private entity is allowed 
to own the land indefinitely, the state requires that Envirocare carry 
a surety fund, currently about $40 million for low level and other 
wastes, for eventual site closure, decommissioning, and long-term 
stewardship. Utah will receive the funds if Envirocare should become 
unable to perform site closure and decommissioning.

Current Conditions:

The disposal site has the capacity for more than 20 years of disposal 
under its current license. According to Envirocare officials, at the 
beginning of March 2004 the disposal facility had 58.9 million cubic 
feet of class A waste. The officials anticipate that the disposal 
facility will accommodate more than 20 years of waste for several 
reasons, such as a reduction in the annual disposal of waste at 
Envirocare.

Envirocare typically has a contract condition requiring that its 
commercial disposal rates not be disclosed. While disposal rates are 
available for DOE waste, they are not reflective of disposal rates for 
other LLRW generators. According DOE officials, DOE receives a more 
favorable disposal rate than generally available to other LLRW 
generators because DOE can obtain discounted rates from Envirocare 
given the large volumes of waste it has for disposal and that it can 
use its own disposal facilities. DOE represents more than half of 
Envirocare's business. DOE's contract with Envirocare, which expires 
June 29, 2004, includes disposal rates ranging from a minimum of about 
$5.25 per cubic foot for soil to a minimum of about $14.80 per cubic 
foot for debris.[Footnote 28] Most DOE waste is shipped to Envirocare 
in bulk containers. According to DOE officials, Envirocare's rail 
access and closer proximity to DOE sites east of Utah provide a 
disposal cost advantage over using DOE disposal facilities.

Envirocare is subject to fees and taxes on waste disposal. The 
legislature raised fees and taxes in 2003 after a citizens' initiative 
to substantially increase the fee and tax structure failed. The state 
levies a fee of 15 cents per cubic feet of waste and $1 per curie for 
radioactive waste. These funds are used to offset program costs for 
oversight. In addition, each generator pays a fee to the state ranging 
from $500 to $1,300 for a generator site access permit. These funds as 
well as a $5,000 fee paid by each broker are for state oversight of the 
disposal facility. In addition, the state imposes a fee ranging from 5 
percent to 12 percent of gross receipts of the disposal operator as 
general tax revenue to be used in a manner determined by the state 
legislature. The amount is based on the type of waste and whether the 
source is from a government or nongovernmental generator. In addition, 
as of 2002, Envirocare is required to pay the state a perpetual care 
fee of $400,000 per year. Also, Tooele County imposes a 5 percent fee 
on the operator's gross receipts. In recent years the operator has 
provided the county about $4 million annually. Those funds are general 
tax revenue for the county. According to the disposal operator, on 
average, Envirocare provides 25 percent of the county's budget. Figure 
5 shows the rail unloading facility for disposal of class A bulk waste 
at the Envirocare facility.

Figure 5: Rail Unloading Facility Associated with Class A Bulk Waste 
Disposal at the Envirocare Disposal Facility:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Richland Disposal Facility:

The Richland disposal facility was opened in July 1965. It is situated 
in Benton County, Washington, approximately 23 miles northwest of the 
city of Richland, near the center of DOE's 560 square mile Hanford 
reservation on 100 of the 1,000 acres of land leased by the State of 
Washington from the federal government in 1964 for 100 years. The state 
had hoped to attract other nuclear-related businesses to the site as 
part of an economic development strategy for the Richland-Kennewick-
Pasco region. In 1993, DOE exercised its right under the terms of the 
lease to reclaim the 900 acres that remained unutilized.

Compact Affiliation:

Washington is the current host state for the Northwest Interstate 
Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management. Besides Washington, 
the original members of the compact are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, 
Oregon, and Utah. The Northwest Compact was established in 1981 and 
ratified by the Congress in 1985. An eighth state, Wyoming, joined the 
compact in 1992. Also in 1992, the Rocky Mountain Compact, comprised of 
Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, reached agreement with the Northwest 
Compact and the state of Washington to send up to 6,000 cubic feet of 
LLRW to the Richland disposal facility annually, plus a 3 percent per 
annum growth factor. The Northwest Compact did so because the Rocky 
Mountain Compact expected generation of only a relatively small volume 
of LLRW once the decommissioning of its only nuclear power plant (Fort 
St. Vrain in Colorado) was completed. Since 1993, the Richland disposal 
facility has been open to LLRW only from generators in the 11 states of 
the Northwest and Rocky Mountain compacts. Regardless of the state of 
origin, Richland may accept naturally-occurring and accelerator-
produced radioactive material, which is not addressed by the compact. 
The Richland facility accepted nonradioactive hazardous and mixed 
wastes until 1985.

State Regulators:

Three state regulatory bodies have roles and responsibilities 
associated with the operation of the Richland disposal facility: the 
Department of Health, the Department of Ecology, and the Washington 
Utilities and Transportation Commission. The Department of Health 
exercises primary regulatory responsibility over the disposal facility. 
It issues licenses to the facility operator and regulates radioactive 
materials. A Department of Health inspector examines each shipment of 
waste prior to disposal to ensure compliance with the requirements of 
the U.S. Department of Transportation, the NRC, and the State of 
Washington. The Department of Ecology has primary program 
responsibility. It issues individual permits for radioactive waste 
disposal to generators, serves as the site landlord, and monitors the 
activities of the Northwest Compact. The Washington Utilities and 
Transportation Commission approves the disposal fees on an annual 
basis. Fees are set at a rate estimated by the facility operator, US 
Ecology, to produce enough revenue to cover all costs of operating the 
facility and provide a 29 percent profit. As an integral part of the 
fee setting process, the operator polls site users to obtain their 
projections for how much waste they plan to ship in the coming year. 
These estimates are the basis on which fees are set.

Disposal Operator:

The private, for-profit contractor, US Ecology Incorporated, a 
subsidiary of Boise, Idaho-based American Ecology Corporation, and its 
corporate antecedents, has operated the Richland disposal facility 
since it opened. According to company officials, there are currently 18 
US Ecology employees working at the Richland facility, in addition to 4 
administrative staff.

Current Conditions:

The Richland facility has much unused capacity to accept LLRW. 
According to state regulators and company officials, the remaining 
capacity at Richland is approximately 21 million cubic feet. To date 
the facility has disposed of approximately 13.9 million cubic feet of 
LLRW in 20 trenches. About 95 percent of the waste received is class A. 
There has been a significant decline in disposal volumes since 1993, 
when the Northwest Compact placed restrictions on the origin of the 
waste that the Richland disposal facility could accept. In the 5 years 
preceding these restrictions, the average annual amount of LLRW waste 
disposed was 395,000 cubic feet. In the 11 years since Richland began 
excluding waste from outside the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Compacts, 
the average amount of waste disposed annually is about 142,000 cubic 
feet, though individual years have been as high as 282,000 and as low 
as 61,000. At the current rates of disposal, fewer than 10 more 
trenches will be filled, or approximately 60 percent of the total 
available disposal capacity, when the facility is expected to close in 
2056, 7 years before the state lease on the land expires.

Disposal fees and other assorted fees for LLRW or naturally-occurring 
and accelerator-produced radioactive material waste at Richland are 
lower than the Barnwell disposal facility, but generally higher than 
those charged by Envirocare of Utah. Unit costs for disposal are 
calculated on a declining volume scale. That is, the lower the volume 
of waste disposed in a given year the higher the unit costs of disposal 
must be in order to reach the annual, state-approved revenue 
requirement. Generators pay a number of fees and surcharges to the 
State of Washington and US Ecology on each cubic foot they dispose at 
Richland. The state charges a site use permit fee that varies according 
to volume. For example, fees for waste disposed between March 1, 2004, 
and February 28, 2005, range from $425 for up to 50 cubic feet to 
$14,840 for 2,500 cubic feet and more. Nuclear utilities and brokers 
pay flat annual site use permit fees of $42,400 and $1,000, 
respectively. The state also imposes other fees and taxes to support 
local economic development, state agency expenses directly related to 
the regulation and operation of the facility, and for the Perpetual 
Care and Maintenance Fund. Unlike the other two commercial LLRW 
disposal facilities, none of these fees or taxes go directly to the 
state's general revenue fund. The facility also pays a business and 
occupation tax.

In addition to the state fees, generators also pay US Ecology's 
disposal charges, which are based on an annual revenue requirement 
authorized by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. 
All LLRW disposed at Richland is assessed charges based on access, 
volume, shipment(s), container(s), and exposure. For example, based on 
a projected disposal volume of 50,000 cubic feet of LLRW in 2004 and an 
annual revenue requirement of approximately $5.4 million, the site 
operator charges average approximately $108 per cubic foot. The 
surcharges assessed by the state on disposed waste would generate 
another $325,000 for local government ($6.50 per cubic foot), $450,000 
to cover the regulatory costs of the Washington Department of Health 
($9.00 per cubic foot), and at least $230,000 in site use permit fees 
to cover the regulatory costs of the Washington Department of Ecology 
and the administrative expenses of the Northwest Compact. The sum of 
these fees, charges, and surcharges paid by generators to the state and 
US Ecology in 2004 is expected to total approximately $6.4 million. 
These associated fees increase the average cost of disposal of LLRW to 
approximately $128 per cubic foot. This average is calculated based on 
the expectation that 95 percent of the waste disposed will be class A; 
typical class B and C waste disposal costs per cubic foot would be 
higher than this average as activity and other surcharges, which could 
be considerable, would apply.

There is a strong desire to control the origin, and therefore the 
volume and nature of the waste disposed at Richland. The State of 
Washington was a lobbying force behind passage of the Act that allowed 
compacts to restrict access to disposal facilities. The state and US 
Ecology have agreed in concept to a new clause in the sublease 
agreement, which is expected to be renewed in 2005, providing for 
termination of the sublease if federal law eliminates the Northwest 
Compact's restrictive authority on waste importation. This policy is 
also reflected in the host state agreements with the Northwest Compact 
and indirectly with the Rocky Mountain Compact. Terminating the 
sublease would effectively shut down the disposal facility. Figure 6 
shows the LLRW disposal trench at the Richland disposal facility.

Figure 6: LLRW Disposal Trench at the Richland Disposal Facility:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

[End of section]

Appendix II: LLRW Legislative Options:

The inability of states to develop any new regional disposal facilities 
since passage of the Low-Level Waste Policy Act (the Act) and 
occasional shortfalls in disposal availability have perpetuated debate 
about the need for further congressional intervention. GAO reported on 
the status of commercial LLRW disposal in 1995 and 1999. In our last 
report, we assessed three management options to address concerns about 
limited or no disposal access for generators of LLRW. While we 
acknowledged that LLRW could be stored for decades or even longer in 
assured isolation facilities, we noted that storage would only 
postpone, not replace, the need for disposal. The three options were 
(1) allowing the compact system under existing federal legislation to 
adapt to the changing LLRW situation, (2) repealing the existing 
federal legislation to allow market forces to respond to the changing 
LLRW situation, and (3) using DOE disposal facilities for commercial 
waste. The changes that occurred since our 1999 report affect the 
viability of these options in various ways, particularly the status quo 
option to maintain the existing compact system if no disposal options 
are available for class B and C wastes after mid-2008.

Retain the Compact Approach:

Proponents of retaining the compact approach cite the degree of control 
that states exercise over LLRW management and flexibility in meeting 
changing circumstances. For example, facing declining waste volumes and 
satisfactory access to existing disposal facilities, states and 
compacts were able to avoid building expensive facilities that were not 
needed. In addition, an existing non-LLRW disposal facility was allowed 
to accept high volume, low-activity radioactive wastes nationally, even 
though it was located in a state that already had access to a licensed 
LLRW disposal facility. Further, under the compact system states were 
allowed to move from one compact to another or to become unaffiliated, 
and two compacts decided to share one disposal facility. And, most 
recently, the state regulator in Texas will begin accepting license 
applications to develop a new disposal facility that might be open in 
early 2008.

Opponents of the compact approach point out that, despite all of this 
flexibility, not one compact has successfully developed a new disposal 
facility for LLRW despite spending millions to do so. Even the proposed 
disposal facility in Texas is moving through the approval process 
having never formed a Texas LLRW disposal compact commission. In 1999, 
we estimated that collectively, the states and compacts had spent about 
$600 million in trying to develop these facilities. Nuclear industry 
association officials estimate that expenditures may now have reached 
approximately $1 billion. Some of these additional costs are associated 
with ongoing litigation in California, Nebraska, and North Carolina 
regarding the failure of these states to fulfill their host state 
obligations to build LLRW disposal facilities after expenditures had 
been made to do so. In addition, there are certainly opportunity costs 
associated with this expenditure, and there may be an incalculable loss 
of advancement in nuclear research and medicine because the cost of 
disposal or lack of options may have diminished the desire to use 
radioactive materials. This option to maintain the status quo, as 
discussed in our 1999 report, may no longer be tenable if there are no 
assured safe, reliable, and cost-effective disposal options put forward 
to address a potential shortfall in disposal availability for class B 
and C wastes after mid-2008.

Repeal the Compact Legislation:

Opponents of the compact system have called for repealing the LLRW 
Policy Act because of the unsuccessful attempts to develop new regional 
LLRW disposal facilities, coupled with authority under the Act to 
restrict access to existing commercial facilities that otherwise have 
disposal capacity. Eliminating access restrictions would allow 
commercial disposal operators to better adapt and respond to changing 
market conditions. And, repeal of the legislation could create a 
national LLRW disposal market that might lead to more competition and 
lower disposal fees.

It would probably be difficult to build enough political support to 
repeal the LLRW Policy Act, however, given no imminent national crisis 
in the short term, and some states would likely resist opening their 
disposal facilities nationally. Even if the Congress repealed the Act, 
it would not necessarily affect the existence of each compact consented 
to prior to repeal. This would mean that a compact provision 
prohibiting the acceptance of waste for disposal from outside the 
compact region would continue in effect. However, under the Act, each 
compact must provide that the Congress may withdraw its consent every 5 
years after the compact has taken effect.[Footnote 29] Apart from 
congressional action, states with privately managed disposal facilities 
could decide not to renew the disposal operators' leases located on 
state-owned land. In addition, states that are concerned about the 
extent to which they would be able to restrict access to a commercial 
disposal facility within their borders might erect administrative 
barriers to developing such a facility.

Use DOE Disposal Facilities for Commercial Waste:

The capping of disposal volumes through mid-2008 at Barnwell and 
restrictions on access to only Atlantic Compact member states after 
this time have heightened interest in having DOE open its disposal 
facilities to at least some commercial LLRW. Access might be allowed on 
an interim basis, as requested in the past by California generators, or 
permanently. According to NRC officials, the Act established a compact 
system that has not provided reliable and cost-effective disposal 
options to generators of LLRW, forcing many of them to store their 
waste. Establishing federal responsibility for disposal of at least the 
class B and C wastes would be similar to federal responsibilities for 
greater-than-class C waste, transuranic, and high-level waste. This 
approach would also be consistent with the management approaches taken 
by some European countries.

Similar to the commercial disposal facilities in Richland and Barnwell 
that are operated by private companies on state-leased land, 
contractors manage and operate the two principal DOE disposal 
facilities on federal land.[Footnote 30] These two DOE disposal 
facilities in Nevada and Washington accept waste that exists on site, 
as well as from other department sites across the country. Each of 
these facilities has enormous capacity to accept LLRW. In 1999, about 
171 million cubic feet of space was available at these two sites, with 
DOE estimating that it would only use less than 30 million cubic feet 
for its cleanup waste. This estimate may even be lower given the 
increasing volume of DOE waste that is being sent to a commercial 
disposal facility.

In the past, DOE disposal facilities have not been considered 
appropriate repositories for commercial waste, but commercial 
facilities were viewed as appropriate for receiving DOE waste. The 
federal government has encouraged the development of private LLRW 
disposal facilities since the early 1960s when the volumes of waste 
were increasing at the same time as the cost of disposal in the ocean. 
As an interim measure, the AEC allowed such waste to be disposed of at 
its own facilities at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and at 
the Oak Ridge National Laboratory until commercial disposal facilities 
became available. As an incentive, in 1963, the AEC instructed its 
sites without disposal facilities to use commercial facilities for 
unclassified waste disposal.

The proposed use of DOE facilities for commercial waste disposal would 
require resolution of a number of issues and may require legislation. 
These issues include whether DOE is presently authorized to accept 
commercially generated LLRW waste at its disposal sites. While previous 
AEC sites accepted commercial waste for a short time, it is not clear 
whether DOE currently has such authority. Another issue to be resolved 
is who (for example, generators, states, or DOE) would be responsible 
for paying the additional cost for disposing of commercial waste at DOE 
facilities and whether DOE would be allowed to keep any funds it 
receives. (Funds received by an agency normally must be paid into the 
U.S. Treasury, unless federal legislation authorizes the agency to 
retain the funds.) An additional issue concerns the potential licensing 
and regulation of a DOE facility that accepts commercial waste. The NRC 
and Agreement State regulations that govern commercial facilities do 
not apply to DOE disposal facilities or the wastes that are shipped to 
these facilities.

Shifting waste to DOE facilities might also have the adverse effect of 
eliminating the financial viability of commercial disposal facilities 
and possibly putting DOE disposal facilities in competition with 
private facilities. However, one option might be to commercialize the 
DOE facility in Nevada by leasing at least some of the existing 
disposal site to the state, as is done in Washington for the commercial 
facility on DOE's Hanford site. Nevertheless, given the significant 
excess capacity at DOE disposal facilities, there might not be any 
incentive to develop new commercial disposal facilities. Without any 
new disposal facilities, most waste would be shipped to Nevada and 
Washington, which have objected in the past to having to accept a 
disproportionate burden of LLRW disposal.

[End of section]

Appendix III: Scope and Methodology:

To obtain information on changes in LLRW management conditions since 
our 1999 report, we interviewed regulators and disposal operators in 
states that have commercial disposal facilities or are considering 
opening one. We visited the Barnwell disposal facility and met with 
disposal site operators and state and Southeast Compact officials. In 
Texas, we met with state regulators and legislative staff. We 
interviewed DOE and NRC officials, and representatives of the nuclear 
power industry, the Department of Defense executive agent for LLRW, and 
several environmental groups. We also interviewed generators and waste 
processors in California, Texas, Maryland, and Tennessee that were 
suggested to us by various LLRW stakeholders in the course of this 
review. In addition, we met several times with members and officers 
from an independent nonprofit association of LLRW stakeholders, 
including obtaining feedback from this association on our preliminary 
findings during a March 2004 meeting. Finally, we reviewed applicable 
laws and regulations, including the Atomic Energy Act, as amended, and 
the LLRW Policy Act, as amended.

In gathering information on recent annual disposal volumes, we relied 
on data provided to us by the three commercial disposal facility 
operators because, in contrast to MIMS data, these data included DOE 
waste and they were current through 2003. We also determined that MIMS 
data had other shortcomings in its reliability that hindered its 
usefulness for other types of analysis, such as sources of waste by 
state and generator type. These and other concerns prompted us to more 
closely examine the department's internal controls over this database. 
In doing so, we reviewed DOE documents and written and oral DOE 
responses to our questions about the structure, development, and 
management of these data. We also interviewed, and in some cases 
surveyed, users of MIMS regarding their assessment of the database's 
reliability. While we did not independently verify the reliability of 
the data obtained from the disposal facility operators, we relied on 
these data for our analysis for the reasons stated and because they are 
the primary source data input into the national LLRW database. To 
gather available data and analysis on projected future disposal 
volumes, we interviewed a spectrum of LLRW stakeholders, including 
state regulators, disposal facility operators, waste processors, 
compact officials, and DOE officials. We also reviewed documents from 
the EPA, the National Research Council, and the International Atomic 
Energy Agency to obtain information relating to the current management 
of LLRW.

To obtain information on any current or anticipated shortfalls in LLRW 
disposal availability, we interviewed state regulators, compact 
officials, and disposal site operators in South Carolina, Utah, and 
Washington, and reviewed the planning documents they provided to us. 
This review allowed us to estimate how much disposal capacity remains 
at each of the commercial disposal facilities given current disposal 
volumes accepted at each facility and other factors, such as licensing 
agreements and compact restrictions on disposal access to these 
facilities. We also reviewed relevant state legislation and other 
activities pertaining to the regulation of the disposal facilities in 
these states, monitored activities in Texas, which is accepting 
applications for a new disposal facility, and tracked the effects of 
LLRW disposal litigation between the Central Compact and Nebraska.

To determine the effects, if any, on LLRW generators of any shortfalls 
or other difficulties associated with the disposal of this waste, we 
initially relied on the interviews that we had with representatives 
from biotechnology companies, environmental groups, hospitals, LLRW 
processors, and nuclear power plants. We also used our survey of 
compact and unaffiliated state officials to identify any documented 
adverse effects when generators had limited or no disposal option for 
their LLRW. This research led us to collaborate with the University of 
Texas Health Science Center in Houston on two nonscientific sample 
surveys of radiation safety officers and Health Physics Society members 
to identify any actual (since 1999) or potential adverse effects on 
biomedical research and clinical practice resulting from costs or 
difficulties related to the storage and disposal of LLRW. The E-mail 
survey of radiation safety officers was conducted through the 
approximately 2,000 subscribers to the Radsafe Listserv. The 
approximately 6,000 members of the Health Physics Society, a scientific 
and professional organization whose members specialize in occupational 
and environmental radiation safety, were invited to participate in a 
survey through a notice in the Society's monthly newsletter, Health 
Physics News. These surveys are considered nonscientific sample surveys 
of self-selected respondents from a nonprobabilistic sample of a 
largely unknown list of people, and there is overlap in affiliation 
between the samples. Our work was conducted between August 2003 and May 
2004 in conformance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards.

[End of section]

Appendix IV :Comments from the Department of Energy:

Note: GAO comment supplementing those in the report text appear at the 
end of this appendix.

Department of Energy 
Washington, DC 20585:

May 20, 2004:

Ms. Robin M. Nazzaro Director:

Natural Resources and Environment Team:
United States General Accounting Office:
Washington, DC 20548:

Dear Ms. Nazzaro:

My office has reviewed the draft report entitled Low-Level Radioactive 
Wastes: Disposal Availability Adequate in Short Term, but Oversight 
Needed to Identify Any Future Shortfalls (GAO-04-604). The information 
in the report demonstrates an enormous amount of work by the General 
Accounting Office (GAO) and extensive interaction with the Department 
of Energy as well as other federal agencies, states, industry groups, 
waste generators, and other stakeholders.

We agree with your assessment that existing commercial low-level 
radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal availability is adequate for the near 
future. We offer no opinion on the recommendation that Congress 
consider directing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to perform data 
gathering and oversight of commercial low-level waste (LLW) disposal.

However, we disagree with the recommendation that the Secretary of 
Energy halt dissemination of information contained in the online 
national LLW database, known as the Manifest Information Management 
System (MIMS). The report's characterization of the usefulness of the 
MIMS data does not fully represent the utility of the system, and 
removal of MIMS without an alternative would evoke sharp criticism from 
states and regional compacts who use it as a source of information on 
radioactive waste disposal. MIMS was developed and is now maintained to 
address a requirement in the National Low-Level Waste Policy Act of 
1980. Specifically, the Department was required to establish "a 
computerized data-base to monitor management of low-level radioactive 
wastes" (Section 7.(a)(1)). If MIMS were no longer available without 
another alternative being developed, DOE's compliance with the Act 
could be questioned.

The enclosure provides additional comments on the report to correct 
some misunderstandings and accurately present the current status of 
commercial LLW management.

If you have any questions, please contact Ms. Alice Williams, Associate 
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Logistics and Waste Disposition 
Enhancements, at (202) 586-0370.

Sincerely,

Signed by: 

Jessie Hill Roberson:
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management:

The following is GAO's comment on the Department of Energy's letter 
dated May 20, 2004.

GAO Comment:

1. DOE disagreed with our recommendation to halt dissemination of 
information in its national LLRW database. DOE stated that our report 
did not adequately characterize the usefulness of MIMS, and that 
removal of the national LLRW database without an alternative would 
evoke criticism from states and regional compacts and would not fulfill 
the requirement in the Act to maintain such a database. Our 
recommendation did not call for removal of this database. Instead, we 
recommended halting dissemination of information in this database as 
long as the database has internal control weaknesses and shortcomings 
in its usefulness and reliability. This action would prevent user 
access to DOE's online database. With regard to the usefulness of MIMS, 
our report noted that state and compact officials use MIMS for various 
purposes; however, the consensus among the officials we surveyed was 
that they could more effectively regulate and monitor LLRW if MIMS 
offered more comprehensive and reliable data. DOE did not address our 
concerns about internal control weaknesses and other shortcomings in 
the database. We stand by our recommendation to DOE because we believe 
that it is inappropriate to disseminate information that is known to be 
unreliable and incomplete.

[End of section]

Appendix V: Comments from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Note: GAO comments supplementing those in the report text appear at the 
end of this appendix.

UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION 
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20555-0001:

May 25, 2004:

Ms. Robin M. Nazzaro, Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
United States General Accounting Office: 
441 G Street, NW:
Washington, D.C. 20548:

Dear Ms. Nazzaro:

Thank you for the opportunity to review and submit comments on the May 
2004 draft of the General Accounting Office's (GAO) report entitled 
"Low-Level Radioactive Waste: Disposal Availability Adequate in Short 
Term, but Oversight Needed to Identify Any Future Shortfalls" (GAO-04-
604). The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) appreciates the time 
and effort that you and your staff have taken to review this topic.

The GAO report provides an accurate summary of current low-level 
radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal activities and potential issues that 
may be encountered in the future. It also recommends that Congress 
consider directing NRC to gather information necessary to monitor the 
adequacy of LLRW disposal and the safety and security of stored waste, 
and to report to Congress if LLRW management conditions should change 
enough to warrant consideration of new legislation to ensure safe, 
reliable, cost-effective disposal availability. We fully support the 
goal of having a safe, reliable, and cost-effective system for the 
disposal of LLRW in the U.S. It is also our view that other actions in 
place of those GAO is recommending would be more effective in moving 
towards this goal, as we discuss below and in our more detailed 
enclosed comments.

The current report is a sequel to GAO's 1999 report, "Low-Level 
Radioactive Wastes: States Are Not Developing Disposal Facilities" 
(GAO/RCED-99-238). That report concluded that none of the States' or 
compacts' efforts to develop new disposal capacity had been successful 
and the State efforts to do so had "essentially stopped." This earlier 
report also examined alternatives to the current system for development 
of new disposal capacity in the U.S., but did not recommend any of 
them. Appendix II of the current report updates those alternatives. We 
believe that it is now time for GAO to explore these alternatives 
further because the future availability of disposal capacity and the 
costs of disposal under the current system remain highly uncertain and 
LLRW generators need predictability and stability in the national 
disposal system. We acknowledge that the potential approval for 
Envirocare to accept Class B and Class C wastes and licensing of a LLRW 
waste disposal facility in Texas could significantly improve the 
current LLRW disposal system in the U.S. At the same time, the nearly 
20 years of experience under the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy 
Amendments Act of 1985 
(LLRW PAA) has demonstrated the difficulties in siting and licensing a 
LLRW facility. Not one new facility has been developed in this time 
under the LLRWPAA. Therefore, we believe it is in the national interest 
to begin exploring the alternatives identified in Appendix II that 
would potentially provide a better legal and policy framework for new 
disposal options for commercial generators of LLRW.

We also believe that the specific recommendations in your current 
report for NRC to monitor LLRW disposal adequacy, and security of stored 
wastes, and to report to Congress when new legislation needs to be 
considered, will not be effective or efficient. Most of the data to be 
collected are not related 1m, or needed for, carrying out our mission 
to protect public health and safety and promote the common defense and 
security. We believe that such monitoring and reporting, if necessary, 
would fall within the responsibility of the Department of Energy (DOE), 
as was previously recognized by Congress in LLRWPAA. Also, until 2000, 
much of this data was required to be collected by DOE per the LLRWPAA 
of 1985 because such data collection was inconsistent with NRC's health 
and safety mission.

The regulatory costs associated with complying with this recommendation 
are not balanced by the negligible benefits. we Although have not fully 
considered all of the types of data that would need to be collected, it 
would include such information as DOE's plans for disposal at 
commercial sites, cost information for disposal and processing, future 
waste generation rates for NRC and Agreement State licensees, the 
status of court decisions affecting LLRW disposal, and specific details 
of plans for disposal facilities in the U.S. (such as the proposed 
Texas facility). The recommendation mould also have NRC and Agreement 
States collect informati on the security and safety of stored waste. 
The 33 NRC Agreement States license most of the uses of radioactive 
materials in the U.S., and any safety and security data collection 
requirements would have to be implemented by them, as well as NRC. This 
could involve rulemaking within each of the Agreement States. An NRC 
rulemaking would require Off ice Management and Budget clearances for 
requiring this information to be submitted, presumably annually. For NRC 
to request that Agreement States obtain this information and carry out 
similar monitoring would likely result in Agreement State requests for 
NRC funding. Without such funding, the Agreement States would likely 
view such a workload as an unfunded mandate.

NRC is already taking other described in our detailed comments in the 
enclosure, to identify radioactive materials of concern, including 
LLRW, and to enhance their safety and security. It is our view that the 
actions we are currently implementing will adequately ensure safety and 
security of radioactive materials, including stored LLRW.

The report notes that NRC is in the process of conducting vulnerability 
studies, but fails to mention other actions NRC has taken to manage and 
minimize these risks. The comprehensive vulnerability assessments 
involve all licensees in the industrial and medical areas, including 
those with LLRW storage and disposal. The results of these assessments 
will include recommendations for graded approaches to security 
enhancements based on overall risk of particular facilities. The risks 
from LLRW storage will be appropriately factored into the NRC staff 
recommendations.

we do not agree that LLRW is an attractive target for adversaries. Much 
of this material is dispersed radioactive material within other waste 
materials and, in this form, requires procurement of large volumes of 
material to obtain significant quantities of radioisotopes of greatest 
security concern. We do consider that spent sealed sources (discrete 
radioactive sources), which are collected by licensed waste brokers and 
either recycled or packaged and transported for disposal present a 
potential potential vulnerability. The NRC, through the Materials 
Security Working Group, is addressing the security risks associated 
with this group of licensees and will be issuing enhanced security 
measures as part of its ongoing efforts to 
address security for medium-priority radioactive materials licensees. 
The NRC has completed the enhanced security measures for high-priority 
licensees (e.g., reactor licensees) and anticipates completing enhanced 
security measures for the medium-priority radioactive materials 
licensees by December 2004. These measures consider all radioactive 
materials at licensees' facilities (both for NRC and Agreement State 
licensees). In addition, the NRC has undertaken other efforts to 
enhance security, such as establishing an interim database for sealed 
sources and ultimately establishing a National Source Tracking System.

Our detailed comments on the draft report are enclosed. If you have any 
questions on our comments or would like to discuss these issues 
further, please contact Melinda Malloy of my staff at 301-415-1785.

Sincerely,

Signed by: 

Luis A. Reyes: 
Executive Director for Operations:

Enclosure:

Comments on Draft GAO Report:

cc: D. Feehan, GAO (Denver):

The following are GAO's comments on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 
letter dated May 25, 2004.

GAO Comments:

1. We disagree with NRC's suggestion that GAO commence a study to 
explore alternative options to the current LLRW management system. 
Given current disposal availability through mid-2008, and uncertainties 
about future disposal availability, we believe that such an evaluation 
by us is not needed at this time. As long as NRC places no time limits 
on LLRW storage and provides assurance that it is safe and secure, any 
shortfalls in disposal capacity would be manageable in the short-term.

2. We disagree with NRC's position that it would be outside its mission 
to report to the Congress on changes in disposal availability and the 
conditions of stored waste. As the federal agency with statutory 
responsibility to protect public health and safety and promote the 
common defense and security, NRC is responsible for overseeing the use, 
storage, and disposal of radioactive materials. NRC and Agreement State 
agencies already have license and inspection programs in place to 
monitor the safety and security of stored waste. NRC is the agency that 
developed the manifest that is the only mechanism available to track 
LLRW nationally. According to NRC, it has also begun to establish an 
interim database for sealed sources, some of which become LLRW, that 
may lead to establishing a National Source Tracking System. As such, we 
believe that NRC is the most appropriate agency to determine when the 
safety and security of stored LLRW are approaching a level of risk that 
might warrant congressional assessment of legislative options to ensure 
disposal availability for all LLRW, and to consider disposal costs as a 
factor behind storing LLRW even if disposal options are available. In 
our opinion, DOE is no longer the most appropriate agency to oversee 
states' management of LLRW given that it has become the major user of 
commercial disposal facilities since establishment of the Act, as 
amended, and that the Congress eliminated its reporting 
responsibilities under the Act.

3. We agree with NRC that there is no need for a congressional 
directive to require that NRC gather additional information necessary 
to monitor disposal availability and the safety and security of stored 
waste. In commenting on our draft report, NRC provided information on 
data gathering actions already in place at or planned by NRC to 
adequately ensure the safety and security of radioactive materials, 
including stored LLRW. Given these actions and the concerns of NRC with 
the regulatory cost of complying with our suggested actions, such as 
additional rulemaking, we eliminated our suggested congressional action 
in this regard.

4. We are not in a position to independently judge if LLRW is or is not 
an attractive target for terrorists. We do point out in our report that 
one study found that a few radioisotopes of greatest security concern 
are classified as LLRW. More importantly, this cited study noted that 
while use of these materials in radiological dispersal devices, such as 
a dirty bomb, are not weapons of mass destruction, they could cause 
mass disruption, dislocation, and adverse financial consequences 
associated with decontamination and rebuilding. Interviews we conducted 
with generators of LLRW also identified other threats posed by the 
unintentional dispersal of radiological materials that could be caused 
by fires, floods, and earthquakes that have raised public concerns and 
the perception of risk.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Class A, B and C wastes for near surface disposal are defined in 10 
C.F.R.  61.55. DOE is responsible for the disposal of a fourth 
category of LLRW, known as greater-than-class C waste, and the waste 
owned and generated by the department.

[2] Generators of LLRW located in compact or unaffiliated states that 
do not have their own disposal facility can contract with a disposal 
facility in another compact if this compact allows them to do so.

[3] There are currently 33 Agreement States including all three states 
in which commercial LLRW disposal facilities are located.

[4] Under the Act, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have the 
same responsibilities as the states.

[5] U.S. General Accounting Office, Low-Level Radioactive Wastes: 
States Are Not Developing Disposal Facilities, GAO/RCED-99-238 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 1999). 

[6] Under the auspices of the AEC, four other commercial disposal 
facilities were licensed in the 1960s, including facilities in Nevada, 
Kentucky, New York, and Illinois. 

[7] Entergy Arkansas, Inc. v. Nebraska, 226 F. Supp. 2d 1047 (D. Neb. 
2002), aff'd, 358 F.3d 528 (8th Cir. 2004).

[8] In addition to the Nebraska litigation, the states of California 
and North Carolina are also in litigation over the development of new 
disposal facilities.

[9] This requirement was originally codified at 42 U.S.C. 2021(g).

[10] See, Pub. L. No. 104-66,  3003 (1995), as amended. See note under 
31 U.S.C.A.  1113.

[11] Office of Inspector General. National Low-Level Waste Management 
Program, DOE/IG-0462 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 
Office of Inspector General, Office of Audit Services, February 2000).

[12] 42 U.S.C.  2021g(a) provides that DOE shall provide assistance to 
carry out the Act "to the extent provided in appropriations acts."

[13] This information was not included, but would have been useful in 
preparing DOE's annual reports to the Congress on LLRW management by 
the states. (The reporting requirement was eliminated, effective May 
2000, by Pub. L. No. 104-66,  3003, as amended.) 

[14] We excluded the LLRW shipped to Envirocare by DOE in this 
comparison because the MIMS database does not record any DOE waste 
disposed of at commercial facilities. 

[15] Controls over information processing that DOE could require in its 
contracts with disposal facility operators would include, for example, 
edit checks of data entered, accounting for transactions in numerical 
sequences, comparing file totals with control accounts, and controlling 
access to data, files, and programs. 

[16] 68 Fed. Reg. 65120 (November 18, 2003).

[17] The South Carolina legislature has established annual caps on the 
amount of LLRW that can be disposed of at Barnwell. The caps diminish 
to 35,000 cubic feet per year by mid-2008 and at that point the cap 
remains at 35,000 per year for Atlantic Compact waste alone. The annual 
cap is comprised of (1) a volume amount set aside for generators in the 
Atlantic Compact, (2) committed amounts attributable to generators 
outside the compact that have contracts with the disposal operator, and 
(3) uncommitted amounts that can be used to accommodate additional 
waste. 

[18] According to the NRC there are approximately 21,600 entities 
licensed by either NRC or an Agreement State to use radioactive 
materials, about 75 percent use either sealed sources, which can be 
returned to the manufacturer or small amounts of radioactive materials 
that decay rapidly leaving little or no residual radioactive 
contamination requiring clean up or disposal.

[19] The narrowly defined conditions are pursuant to 10 C.F.R., Part 
62. The alternatives that must be explored by the person making the 
request include storing at the site of generation or at a licensed 
facility, purchasing disposal capacity, or requesting disposal at a 
federal LLRW disposal facility.

[20] Ferguson, Charles, Tahseen Kazi, and Judith Perera. Commercial 
Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risks (Monterey, CA: Center 
for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International 
Studies, January 2003).

[21] These surveys of RadSafe Listserv subscribers and Health Physics 
Society members are not considered scientific sample surveys because 
the self-selected respondents came from a nonprobability sample of a 
largely unknown list of people. 

[22] Stupka, Richard, Barbara Lewis and James Langsted, Case Study of 
Michigan Low-Level Radioactive Waste Generators (Denver, CO: Dames & 
Moore, DOE Programs Group, September 1993).

[23] National Research Council, The Impact of Low-Level Radioactive 
Waste Management Policy on Biomedical Research in the United States 
(Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001).

[24] The Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 gave 
compacts the ability to exclude waste outside each compact's regional 
boundaries.

[25] One milestone, for example, set a deadline of January 1, 1992, for 
states and compacts to submit a license application for disposal 
facilities in their respective regions. Another milestone required that 
if a state did not have a viable disposal facility by January 1, 1996, 
a state or state(s) in a compact must take title to the waste when 
requested by generators. However, in 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 
that this provision was unconstitutional. New York v. United States, 
505 U.S. 144 (1992). 

[26] Allowing all types of class A waste includes containerized class A 
waste, which is shipped, received, and disposed in remotely-handled 
sealed containers. By contrast, bulk waste is generally removed from 
its shipping containers and is "contact-handled" in a process that 
typically involves compacting the waste in 12-inch layers over the 
disposal area. Unlike the Barnwell and Richland commercial disposal 
sites, waste at Envirocare is placed in broad, shallow cells that are 
designed to finish above-grade. These disposal cells are constructed 
using native clay and rocks as liner and cap materials.

[27] According to NRC, Utah exempted Envirocare from the requirement 
that the federal or state government own the disposal site land. 

[28] The contract has 4 additional option years. New contacts and 
revisions may require that additional taxes be included.

[29] 42 U.S.C. 2021d(d). In addition, under the terms of the statutes 
providing congressional consent to the compacts, the Congress may 
alter, amend, or repeal each statute providing consent after 10 years. 
Even without these provisions, the Congress could pass specific 
legislation withdrawing its consent at any time because a previous 
Congress cannot bind a future one. 

[30] As discussed in appendix I, US Ecology operates the Richland 
commercial disposal facility on land that the federal government has 
leased to the State of Washington for 100 years.

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