Regulatory system

The regulatory system for SNF and radioactive waste management in the United States involves several agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commis­sion (NRC), regulating the commercial nuclear sector; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), establishing environmental standards; and the DOE, regulating government programs. Some NRC regulatory authority — excluding SNF, special nuclear material sufficient to form a critical mass, and HLW — can be delegated to the 50 states of the United States and the territories Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia under the Agreement State Program. This authority includes regulating commercial LLW disposal sites and uranium mill tailings sites, and regulatory authority over the dis­posal of mill tailings. Some states also have regulatory authority delegated to them by the EPA, such as for discharges from some industrial or mining practices.

Table 18.1 Key US laws governing RAW management

Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, established the Atomic Energy Commission, the predecessor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, with federal responsibility to regulate the use of nuclear materials including the regulation of civilian nuclear reactors. Under Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970, which created the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), authority to establish generally applicable environmental standards was transferred to the EPA along with authority to provide federal guidance on radiation protection matters affecting public health.

The Price-Anderson Act (1957) was enacted to encourage development of the nuclear industry and ensure prompt and equitable compensation in the event of a nuclear incident. The Act provides a system of financial protection for persons who may be liable for, and persons who may be injured by, such an incident.

Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, as amended, requires environmentally sound methods for disposal of household, municipal, commercial, and industrial waste. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended, requires federal agencies to consider environmental values and factors in agency planning and decision making.

Clean Air Act of 1970 is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources.

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits the dumping of material into the ocean unreasonably degrading or endangering human health or the marine environment.

Safe Drinking Water Act of 1972, as amended, protects public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply; it requires actions to protect drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells.

Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended, abolished the Atomic Energy Commission and established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration — the predecessor of the DOE.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, as amended, regulates the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes, which are generated mainly by industry, also requires that open dumping of all solid wastes be brought to an end throughout the country by 1983.

Department of Energy Organization Act (1977) brought together most of the Government’s energy programs, as well as defense responsibilities that included the design, construction, and testing of nuclear weapons into the new Department of Energy. The Department was established on 1 October 1977, assuming the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration, Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission, and parts and programs of several other federal agencies.

Uranium Mill Tailings and Radiation Control Act of 1978, as amended, vested the EPA with overall responsibility for establishing health and environmental cleanup standards for uranium milling sites and contaminated vicinity properties, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with responsibility for licensing and regulating uranium production and related activities, including decommissioning, and the Department of Energy with responsibility for remediating inactive milling sites and long-term monitoring of the decommissioned sites.

Table 18.1 Continued

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 as amended, also known as Superfund, provided the EPA with authority to address abandoned hazardous waste sites and outlined the process to be followed in identifying and remediating sites, including determination of cleanup levels and pursuit of contribution to the cleanup or cost recovery against parties deemed to have contributed to the contamination. It includes radionuclides as a hazardous substance.

Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 and Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 gave individual states — rather than the federal government — responsibility to provide disposal capacity for commercial Class A, B, and C low-level waste; authorized the formation of regional compacts (groups of states) for the safe disposal of such low-level waste; and allowed compacts to decide whether to exclude waste generated outside the compact. The acts gave the federal government responsibility for the disposal of greater-than-class C low-level waste that results from activities licensed by the NRC or Agreement States.

National Security and Military Applications of Nuclear Energy Authorization Act of 1980. Section 213 (a) of the Act authorizes Waste Isolation Pilot Plant ‘for the express purpose of providing a research and development facility to demonstrate the safe disposal of radioactive wastes resulting from defense activities and programs of the U. S. exempted from regulation by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.’

West Valley Demonstration Project Act of 1980 authorized the DOE to conduct a technology demonstration project for solidifying high-level waste, disposing of waste created by the solidification, and decommissioning the facilities used in the process. The Act required the DOE to enter into an agreement with the State of New York for carrying out the project.

Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 as amended by the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987 establishes the federal responsibility for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act of 1992, as amended, withdraws land from the public domain for operation of the facility; defines operational limitations and the role of the EPA and the US Mine Safety and Health Administration; exempts transuranic mixed waste destined for disposal at the facility from treatment requirements and land disposal prohibitions under the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The Act provides for a continuing EPA oversight role, including recertification that the facility meets EPA standards.

Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandated site-specific public health and safety standards and site-specific licensing requirements for the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Among other things, it also authorized the DOE to reimburse certain ‘active’ uranium and thorium milling owners for a portion of their remedial action costs.

Energy Policy Act of 2005 sets forth an energy and development program and includes specific provisions addressing, among other things, disposal of greater — than-class C low-level waste (including certain sealed sources), naturally occurring radioactive materials, and accelerator-produced waste.

Title 10 (for NRC and DOE) and Title 40 (for EPA) of the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) contain the general requirements for the three federal agencies responsible for regulating radioactive waste. US govern­ment regulations are developed through an open process, including the opportunity for public comment. New regulations are published in the Federal Register in proposed and final forms.

The separation between the EPA standard-setting function and the NRC ’s implementing function reflects a nearly 40-year-old congressional policy of centralizing environmental standard-setting in a single agency. When the EPA was established, it was given environmental authorities previously scattered among several older agencies, including the NRC pred­ecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). There are advantages to having an agency both set and implement standards, and the NRC does so in many subject areas, especially in reactor design and operation. Nonethe­less, there are also advantages to having environmental standards set on a national basis by a single agency whose jurisdiction is wide enough to permit the agency to rank risks from many sources, including nuclear.

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