The Problem of Disposing of Nuclear Low-Level Waste:

Where Do We Go From Here?

EMD-80-68: Published: Mar 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1980.

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A problem has developed in nuclear waste disposal. As late as 1975, six commercial low-level nuclear waste burial sites were licensed to operate in the United States. Now only three sites remain; Washington, Nevada, and South Carolina. Of these, two were temporarily shut down during the past year and the third has restricted the annual volume of waste it will receive. Low-level radioactive waste that has been disposed of at burial sites comes from several different sources: institutions, such as hospitals and universities; industry; commercial power reactors; and Federal Government installations.

The Governors of Nevada, South Carolina, and Washington feel it is not appropriate for the citizens of their three States to shoulder the burden of disposing of the commercial low-level wastes from all States. They have urged the other States to develop regional sites adequate to handle the wastes generated in each region. Implicit in their remarks and actions is the possibility that unless the regional imbalance in low-level waste disposal is relieved, the three States may unilaterally decide to close their sites or restrict disposal. In response to the Governors' concerns the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed a sequence of steps to increase disposal capacity. The Commission plans to assign high priority to applications for increased storage capacity and waste volume reduction operations, and provide technical assistance to State Governments to formulate storage requirements.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Commission should not license any new shallow-land burial sites while the Department of Energy (DOE) is developing a national low-level waste plan. The Secretary of Energy should: (1) agree with other Federal agencies and parties on the number, type, and general location of waste disposal sites needed on a regional basis; (2) define the Federal versus State responsibility for low-level waste disposal; (3) evaluate the feasibility of using existing DOE facilities for disposal of commercial low-level waste; (4) investigate the possibility, in conjunction with the Commission, of reopening the closed commercial sites; and (5) have DOE act as an overall Federal focal point for low-level waste matters other than licensing and regulation which are the responsibility of the Commission and the agreement States.

    Agency Affected:


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