Major Unresolved Issues Preventing a Timely Resolution to Radioactive Waste Disposal

EMD-78-94: Published: Jul 13, 1978. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 1978.

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Radioactive wastes vary widely in volume, composition, and intensity of radioactivity depending on the materials and nature of the operations from which they originate. Most of the radioactive wastes generated today are from the Department of Energy's (DOE) weapons program, commercial nuclear reactors, and nuclear fuel cycle activities, mainly at fuel fabrication and reprocessing facilities.

U.S. radioactive waste policy goals are presently unclear in that there is no clear differentiation of management, regulation (licensing), and research, development, and demonstration functions. In addition, no single agency has enough jurisdiction over all the aspects of nuclear waste operations to develop a comprehensive program. The safe development and demonstration of methods of collecting, temporarily storing, treating, packaging, and transporting these wastes present overwhelming challenges. Target dates currently envisioned by DOE are optimistic, and it is doubtful that they will be achieved. Goals for the future must include establishing specific criteria for radioactive wastes during each phase of management. These criteria should address not only those basic technological aspects of waste performance and repository characteristics, but also the specific institutional requirements. Unless the States and Federal Government join now in setting goals and assigning responsibilities for management and licensing, the radioactive waste management program will remain fragmented, publicly unacceptable, and undemonstrated.

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