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Nuclear Regulators Threaten to Contaminate America’s Recycling Stream

Feb. 28, 2003

Nuclear Regulators Threaten to Contaminate America’s Recycling Stream

Federal Agency Must Consider Opposition of More Than 100 Organizations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) today made clear its determination to permit forced radiation exposures upon the public. In today’s Federal Register, the NRC published a notice of a workshop and a request for comments on the scope of its proposed rulemaking on “controlling the disposition of solid materials.” In so doing, the NRC appears to be forging ahead to allow massive quantities of nuclear wastes to be “released,” thus allowing them to go into unlicensed landfills, incinerators and even consumer products.

More than 100 organizations in the United States and internationally have stated their opposition to such practices, however, and have signed on to a “Statement Opposing Radioactive ‘Recycling’ and Deregulation of Nuclear Wastes.”

Nuclear waste materials are already being released without any restrictions, on a “case-by-case” basis. A National Academies report from last year, entitled “The Disposition Dilemma: Controlling the Release of Solid Materials from Nuclear Regulatory Commission-Licensed Facilities,” stated that wastes from nuclear reactors “are being released on a daily basis.” But, disturbingly, the report verified that “[t]he amount of these materials is not known because there is no requirement to document the materials released.”

“The NRC’s proposed rulemaking is being conducted merely to accommodate the nuclear industry, which would like to make the ‘release’ of nuclear trash easier, cheaper and more clearly legal than it is currently,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “These materials, which are not labeled or tracked in any way, could end up in any variety of products, from bicycles and toys to cookware and bedsprings. The NRC needs to make the protection of public health and safety its top priority, not saving money for the nuclear industry at the public’s expense.”

The nuclear industry and government regulators have been pushing for a way to fully deregulate radioactive waste for decades. A previous method, by which certain wastes were designated as “below regulatory concern” was banned by Congress in 1992 in response to pressure from state and local governments and citizen, consumer, and industry groups. According to a National Academies report issued last year, the total cost to dispose of all slightly radioactive solid material — metal and concrete — from U.S. power reactors under the no-release option is estimated at between $4.5 billion and $11.7 billion. The report went on to add that “clearance of all this material could allow the option of recycle or reuse … and would avoid essentially all disposal costs.”

The NRC seems to be ignoring recommendations from this report, originally commissioned by the NRC itself. The report stated that a “legacy of distrust” had developed between the NRC and the public, and that “[b]road stakeholder involvement and participation in the USNRC’s decision-making process … is critical as the USNRC moves forward.” Today’s announcement includes no schedule for any public hearings, except one two-day workshop (May 21 and 22), scheduled in the daytime, during the work week in the Washington, D.C., area.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is back again trying to legalize putting nuclear power and weapons waste into our belt buckles, baby toys and frying pans. The public response is still ‘NO! We won’t take it!’ and NRC knows it, so they are avoiding public hearings so the public won’t find out,” said Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

Among the supplementary information accompanying today’s announcement, the NRC claims that one of the alternatives being considered for the wastes is that of “no release”—wherein radioactive wastes could only be placed in licensed facilities, not “released” into standard landfills, incinerated, or “recycled.” The NRC Commission Voting Record of Oct. 25, 2002, however, indicates that this option is not likely to be selected or fully evaluated. NRC Chairman Richard Meserve advised that in dealing with this issue “it would not be appropriate to mask the Commission’s continuing support for the release of solid material ….”

“The NRC is fully empowered to completely ban these absurd release and ‘recycling’ practices,” said David Ritter, policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The fact that they are moving forward with this process only confirms that they think forcing multiple radiation exposures upon an unconsenting public is worthy of consideration. Sadly, they must be told again that it is not.”

To read the group statement, please click here.

To read today’s Federal Registerclick here.

Public comments will be accepted until June 30, 2003. Public Citizen plans to submit comments soon.