On November 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or the Department) submitted a Report to Congress titled, Alternatives for the Disposal of Greater-than-Class C Low-Level Radioactive Waste and Greater-than-Class C-Like Waste.
The report satisfies a statutory requirement in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which requires that, prior to making a final decision on the disposal alternative or alternatives to be implemented regarding GTCC low-level radioactive waste, the Secretary of Energy shall submit a report to Congress that describes the alternatives under consideration and await action by Congress. The report must also include all the information required by the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (LLRWPAA) for inclusion in a comprehensive report—submitted by the Secretary of Energy to Congress in February 1987—on ensuring the safe disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste.
The report has been posted to the DOE’s Greater-than-Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive waste website at http://www.gtcceis.anl.gov/.
GTCC low-level radioactive waste, which is generated by NRC or Agreement State licensees, has radionuclide concentrations exceeding the limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The federal government is responsible for the disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste. At this time, there is no disposal facility for GTCC low-level radioactive waste.
In February 2016, DOE issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Disposal of Greater-Than–Class C (GTCC) Low-Level Radioactive Waste and GTCC-Like Waste (DOE/EIS-0375). The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) did not constitute a final decision, however, as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires the Department to submit a Report to Congress on disposal alternatives for GTCC low-level radioactive waste and await action by Congress. (See LLW Notes, January/February 2016, pp. 1, 24-25.)
Accordingly, the November 2016 Report to Congress evaluates the potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed development, operation and long-term management of a disposal facility or facilities for GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste in DOE’s inventory as shown in the Final EIS.
Wastes and Volumes
GTCC-like waste is radioactive waste that is owned or generated by DOE (including low-level radioactive waste and non-defense-generated transuranic waste), has no identified path to disposal and has characteristics similar to those of GTCC low-level radioactive waste suggesting that a common disposal approach may be appropriate.
GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste include:
- activated metals from the decommissioning of nuclear utilities;
- sealed sources used for diagnostics and treatment of cancer and other illnesses and other industrial uses; and,
- other wastes, which include waste from the production of molybdenum-99 (used in medical diagnostics), waste from radioisotope power systems (used in support of space exploration) and waste from environmental cleanup at DOE sites (i.e., West Valley Demonstration Project in New York).
The total estimated volume of GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste that was in storage as of 2008 and projected (anticipated through 2083) is approximately 12,000 cubic meters or 420,000 cubic feet, and contains about 160 million curies of radioactivity. About 75 percent of the total inventory in the Final EIS is made up of GTCC low-level radioactive waste, with the remaining amount made up of GTCC-like waste.
The Final EIS evaluated five alternatives, including a no action alternative. Of the four action alternatives considered, one involves disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste in a geologic repository at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) that is located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The other three action alternatives involve the use of land disposal methods at six federally owned sites—including the Hanford Site, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site, Savannah River Site, and the WIPP vicinity—and at generic commercial sites.
The land disposal alternatives consider the use of intermediate-depth borehole, enhanced near-surface trench and above-grade vault facilities. The land disposal alternatives cover a spectrum of concepts that could be implemented to dispose of these wastes in order to enable an appropriate site and disposal technology to be selected.
The Final EIS evaluated each alternative with regard to the transportation and disposal of the entire inventory, but the evaluation of human health and transportation impacts is done on a waste-type basis, so decisions can be made on this basis in the future, as appropriate.
The preferred alternative for the disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste identified in the Final EIS is land disposal at generic commercial facilities and/or disposal in the WIPP geologic repository. Full waste emplacement operations at WIPP are not expected until the 2021 timeframe. Therefore, the Department is primarily considering disposal at generic commercial facilities at this time. The preferred alternative does not include disposal at any DOE sites other than WIPP.
The November 2016 Report to Congress states that the analysis in the Final EIS has provided the Department with the information needed to identify a preferred alternative with the potential for disposal of the entire waste inventory analyzed in the Final EIS.
DOE has determined that the preferred alternative would satisfy the needs of the Department for the disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste. As described in Section VIII of the report, legislation and regulatory actions would be required for DOE to implement its preferred disposal alternative.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Prior to making a final decision on which disposal alternative to implement, Section 631(b)(1)(B)(i) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires DOE to submit a Report to Congress and await action thereon. DOE has fulfilled the first step by submitting the November 2016 Report to Congress. DOE must now wait for Congress to take appropriate action in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 before the Department can issue a Record of Decision.
In this regard, the November 2016 Report to Congress states as follows:
Implementation of DOE’s preferred alternative would result in cost-effective, safe, and secure disposal of GTCC [low-level radioactive waste] and GTCC-like waste inventory outlined in the Final EIS. The preferred alternative is land disposal at generic commercial facilities and/or disposal at the WIPP geologic repository. Full waste emplacement operations at WIPP are not expected until the 2021 timeframe, and therefore the Department is primarily considering disposal in generic commercial sites. Congressional action is required before DOE can make a final decision and issue a record of decision on the disposal of GTCC [low-level radioactive waste] and GTCC-like waste.
DOE will work with Congress to determine the best path forward for disposal of GTCC [low-level radioactive waste] and GTCC-like waste.
The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 assigned the responsibility for the disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste to the federal government. DOE’s Office of Environmental Management was designated as the specific office responsible for GTCC low-level radioactive waste disposal.
On May 11, 2005, DOE issued an Advance Notice of Intent (ANOI) in the Federal Register that invited the public to provide preliminary comments on the potential scope of the EIS. DOE then issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS on July 23, 2007. (A printing correction was issued on July 31, 2007.) The NOI provided responses to the major issues identified by commenters on the ANOI, identified the preliminary scope of the EIS and announced nine public scoping meetings and a formal scoping comment period lasting from July 23 through September 21, 2007. DOE used all input received during the scoping process to prepare the Draft EIS.
A 120-day public comment period on the Draft EIS began with the publication of the EPA Notice of Availability in the Federal Register on February 25, 2011 and closed on June 27, 2011. DOE conducted public hearings at nine locations during April and May of 2011. All comments received on the Draft EIS were considered in the preparation of the Final EIS.
In February 2016, DOE issued the Final EIS that evaluated five alternatives for the disposal of GTCC low-level radioactive waste and GTCC-like waste. The final EIS identified land disposal at generic commercial facilities and/or disposal in the WIPP geologic repository as the preferred alternative.
For additional information, please contact Theresa J. Kliczewski, GTCC EIS Document Manager for DOE, at (202) 586-3301 or at Theresa.Kliczewski@em.doe.gov.