Workshop Report/Summary

Low-level Radioactive Waste Management and Disposition: Proceedings of a Workshop (2017)

The Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management (DOE) is responsible for the safe cleanup of sites used for nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. Low-level radioactive waste is the most volumetrically significant waste stream generated by the DOE cleanup program, and it is also generated through commercial activities such as nuclear power plant operations and medical treatments. In the United States low-level radioactive waste comprises several types of physically and chemically diverse waste, ranging from lightly contaminated soils and building materials to highly irradiated nuclear reactor components.

A complex regulatory structure for disposing of the waste has evolved over time across agencies and states. This structure has provided adequate guidance for the successful disposal of the majority of low-level radioactive waste streams, but there are some streams--many of which were not anticipated when the regulations were created--that lack an obvious pathway to disposal or whose disposition could be considered out of step with the hazard of the waste.

At the request of DOE, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop in October 2016 to: (1) identify key characteristics of low-level radioactive waste that govern its management and disposal, and (2) to explore how those characteristics are used within existing regulatory frameworks. The workshop used case studies to highlight successful examples of management and disposal within existing regulatory frameworks. Common themes within the case studies that led to successful disposition of the wastes were identified such as: the use of existing regulations and standards to provide an anchor for disposal decisions; the identification of lessons learned from similar or analogous problems such as Canada's or France's approach to managing and disposing of very low-level radioactive waste; and acknowledgement that the disposal site characteristics are as important for safe disposal as the inherent characteristics of the waste.