The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a proposed interpretation of its low-level radioactive waste disposal regulations on March 6 to allow the nuclear industry to dump some of its waste in landfills, rather than a licensed facility.
The NRC will consider approval of requests for specific exemptions for the purpose of disposal if they are for the disposal of very low-level radioactive waste by land burial. The NRC's intent is that this interpretive rule will allow licensees to transfer very low-level radioactive waste to exempt persons for the purpose of disposal by land burial.
Advocates say the proposal could put public health at risk, pushing the NRC to give the public more time to weigh in, reports The Hill.
“What they’re trying to do is prop up a failing industry so that the cost of decommissioning these [nuclear] reactors is reduced so you don’t have to send it to a place that is expensive because it’s designed to safely handle it,” says Dan Hirsch, former director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Program on environmental and nuclear policy.
On April 3, the public comment period was extended from April 20 to July 20. But according to the Public News Service, Hirsch and other opponents say the COVID-19 pandemic isn't allowing for proper scrutiny of the rule. They want it picked back up six months after the coronavirus crisis is over.
Currently, the nuclear waste in question is typically disposed of at licensed waste disposal facilities, which have adequate training and equipment to protect public health.
The proposal would grant some exceptions to this regulation for waste with a cumulative radiation dose level of up to 25 millirem.