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Public Citizen Warns Against Proposal to Dump Nuclear Waste into Community Landfills

March 15, 2004

Public Citizen Warns Against Proposal to Dump Nuclear Waste into Community Landfills

Forcing Radiation Exposure on Public Sets Dangerous Precedent


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its proposal to allow nuclear waste to be dumped in standard community landfills or other non-licensed facilities. The EPA is considering a plan to allow “low-activity” radioactive waste to be disposed in dumps and landfills that are not licensed for or designed to contain it.

This proposal, on which the EPA is now seeking comment, would permit certain radioactive wastes to be treated as if they were non-radioactive and exempted from standards designed to isolate and contain radiation and prevent the public from being exposed to radiation. The EPA teamed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to formulate the deregulatory rulemaking. Having the ability to dump nuclear waste in a regular community landfill would save the nuclear industry millions of dollars, since it costs less money to send nuclear waste to a regular community landfill – where your household trash is sent – than it does to properly store the waste in a licensed facility.

“Low-activity” radioactive waste does not mean that the waste doesn’t pose a hazard to human health or the environment,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “It’s ludicrous for the EPA, whose stated mission is ‘to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment,’ to suggest that we roll back existing regulations on the management of nuclear waste materials.”

There are several problems with EPA’s proposal:

  • It introduces an option to allow mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes to be dumped in facilities that have permits only for hazardous wastes. This is unacceptable, since hazardous waste dumps are not designed to isolate and contain radiation and there has not been substantial research into how radioactive and chemical pollutants react when mixed together in the environment and the human body.
  • It would allow radioactive waste to go to sites such as standard garbage dumps, incinerators or hazardous waste sites that do not have licenses or regulations for handling it or maintaining it safely.
  • The EPA’s notice does not identify regulatory barriers that would prevent the nuclear wastes from going to recycling facilities and contaminating the recycling streams that feed the production of everyday household items like cookware, toys, cars and furniture. No restrictions are described that would keep commercial materials and projects such as roads, bridges and buildings free of this contamination.

“The EPA’s non-regulatory approach to managing waste by ‘partnering’ with nuclear waste generators works to protect industry, not the public,” said David Ritter, policy analyst with Public Citizen. “Unfortunately, the real motivation behind the EPA’s proposal is to coddle nuclear waste producers. The whole idea should be dumped.”


Whether the EPA proceeds with the plan may depend on the nature and volume of the comments it receives. If the EPA decides to move forward with the proposal, it will draft a rule after the comment period ends on May 17.


To read the comments Public Citizen submitted today to the EPA, click here.