Nuclear Agency Abandons Sending Low Level Nuclear Waste to Local Landfills

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After a storm of criticism, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission this month abandoned its proposed rule “reinterpretation” that would have allowed commercial landfills to start accepting low level radioactive waste in lieu of the nation’s four licensed facilities.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit reported on the proposed rule action back in May, with environmentalists denouncing the move by the Trump Administration as potentially leaving the public in the dark about which local landfills could accept what the government defines as “very low level” nuclear waste.

Currently, only four sites – in Washington state, Utah, Texas and South Carolina – have been licensed to accept the concrete from decommissioned nuclear plants and other low level waste.

In a federal regulatory filing this month, the commission staff reported receiving some 200 comments and 15,000 form letters, the “vast majority” faulting the new plan. Among other things, critics said the current process is working and any changes should be done under the existing regulatory framework, instead of reinterpreting the existing rule.

The NRC staff concluded that any benefits from streamlining the current process would “not outweigh the costs” of implementing the change.

Daniel Hirsch, executive director for the environmental group Committee to Bridge the Gap, welcomed the withdrawal of the proposal. “I’m pleased that the NRC has come to its senses,” he said, “and is not going to dump radioactive waste in local garbage dumps.’’

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