Types of Radioactive wastes

Since the splitting of the atom, both uranium and plutonium have been used to create bombs, provide medical supplies, and furnish energy. Not surprisingly, these uses create waste management problems: what do you do with materials that stay radioactive for tens of thousands of years? The disposal of most radioactive materials is regulated under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and subsequent amendments, as well as by a radioactive material licensing program established by the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978. While some states are subject to direct control by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a federal agency, Texas has been delegated authority by this agency and its predecessors and has its own laws and regulations relating to the use of radioactive materials and radioactive waste disposal. Radioactive waste has four main categories: low-level radioactive waste, high-level radioactive waste, naturally occurring radioactive material, and transuranic waste.

Low-level Radioactive Waste
Low-level radioactive waste includes all tools, instruments, pipes, syringes, paper, water, soils, and protective clothing such as gloves contaminated with radioactive materials. Nationwide, about 80 percent of low-level radioactive waste by volume is from nuclear power plants. Low-level "fuel-related" radioactive wastes such as sludge, resins and evaporator bottoms from cleaning the large volumes of water used at nuclear power reactors, and clothes, paper, and filters contaminated by radioactive waste make up one category of nuclear-generated waste. Low-level "neutron-activated waste" from the intense bombardment of reactor parts with radioactive neutrons is a second category of low-level radioactive waste. Finally, hospitals and other medical facilities also produce low-level radioactive wastes. About 1.4 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes were disposed of in the United States in 1991—enough to fill about 280 boxcar loads.* In Texas, it is believed that by 2007, there will be approximately 2 million cubic fee of low-level radioactive waste needing disposal. Currently, two commercial sites are receiving low-level radioactive waste in South Carolina, and Utah.* In Texas, mining, power plants, industries, hospitals, and university research facilities generate about 20,000 cubic feet per year of low-level radioactive waste.* By volume, about one-third of this low-level radioactive waste comes from Texas's two nuclear power reactors: the South Texas Project in Matagorda County, and the two-unit Comanche Peak Project in Somervell County.* By the amount of radioactivity—as measured in a radioactivity scale known as curies—nuclear power plants account for at least 70 percent of the state's lowlevel radioactive waste.* While most radioactive waste produced in Texas stays radioactive less than 100 years, about one percent—again associated with power plants—will remain radioactive for thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years.* Federal and state definitions of low-level radioactive waste differ. In Texas, lowlevel radioactive waste includes radioactive waste that has a half-life of 35 years or less and fewer than 10 nanocuries per gram of transuranics, as well as wastes with half-lives of more than 35 years if special criteria for the disposal of the waste are established by the TCEQ.* The federal definition, on the other hand, considers any radioactive waste that has less than 100 nanocuries per gram of transuranics low-level.*

Texas's nuclear plants—as well as many of the state's universities and industries— sent their radioactive wastes to a low-level radioactive facility in Barnwell, South Carolina, until July 1994, when the facility temporarily closed. Since then, the facility has reopened and both the Barnwell and a similar facility in Clive Utah -accept low-level radioactive waste from Texas generators*. However, the Barnwell facility will stop accepting waste from Texas beginning in 2008 and the Utah site only accepts certain kinds of low-level radioactive waste. The two nuclear plants in Texas currently store their nuclear wastes on-site in above-ground facilities, while hospitals and universities either store such waste on-site or send it to a centralized storage facility in Fort Stockton, Texas.* There are an estimated 60 sites throughout Texas which store low-level radioactive waste.* Low-level radioactive waste regulation falls under the jurisdiction of both the TCEQ and the Texas Department of Health's Bureau of Radiation Control. While TCEQ regulates disposal of low-level waste and has the authority to issue a license for a disposal facility, the TDH regulates and licenses the use, transport, and storage of radioactive materials. Under the federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 and 1985 amendments, states are expected to arrange for disposal of low-level waste generated within their borders -- other than those wastes generated by federal weapon facilities -- or form a compact with other states to create a single disposal site, which may refuse to accept waste from other states not in the compact. In 1981 the Texas legislature created the Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority to develop a state site to manage these wastes. In 1991 the legislature ordered the Waste Disposal Authority to locate the site in Hudspeth County, and in 1992 a site was preliminary approved in Hudspeth County, about seven miles from Sierra Blanca. In 1993, Texas formed a compact with the States of Vermont, and Maine to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from these two states and from Texas in Texas, which was later approved by the U.S. Congress.In 1996 the then-TNRCC proposed a draft permit for the site. However, several individuals, cities, counties, and organizations from both sides of the border opposed the permit, and in 1997 the State Office of Administrative Hearings ordered a hearing to decide whether to recommend denying or granting the permit. In July 1998 the hearings examiners in the case recommended that the TNRCC deny the permit because the applicant failed to characterize the fault directly beneath the site and failed to address potential negative socioeconomic impacts from the proposed facility.* In October 1998 the TNRCC commissioners denied the permit. In 1999, the Texas legislature eliminated the TRLLWDA, transferring all of its functions to the TNRCC. Finally, in 2003, the Texas Legislature approved and the governor approved HB 1567, which created a process for a private entity to hold a license to dispose of low-level radioactive waste, and also allow another similar facility -which could be owned by the same company although the wastes would have to be disposed of separately -- to accept low-level federal radioactive waste from Department of Energy (DOE) weapon or other facilities. Under the legislation, the TCEQ has written rules for how it will accept applications to dispose of the radioactive waste, and applications would need to be received by January of 2004. Applicants would need to submit an application fee of $500,000. The disposal site would be run and managed by the private company, but after a time period would revert to state ownership. Because of the way both the legislation and the subsequent rules are written, it is most likely the waste site would be located in Andrews County in West Texas. Waste Control Specialist, a private waste management company, currently manages a mixed hazardous waste landfill and radioactive storage facility in Andrews County and has proposed disposing and managing low-level radioactive waste there. Another company – Envirocare – has in the past proposed building a facility to accept low-level radioactive waste in several counties in West Texas. It is expected that one or more of these companies would apply for a permit to manage low-level state and

federal radioactive waste. Nonetheless, the application is certain to generate some opposition, and a decision will not be reached on approving such a site for several years. While it is difficult to estimate how much waste would be buried at such a site, estimates of "compact" waste -- low-level radioactive waste in Texas, Vermont and Maine -- are between two and three million cubic feet, while the DOE expects to generate hundreds of millions of cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste by 2007.* Under the bill, up to 162 million cubic feet of DOE waste could be disposed of in Texas*.

Intermediate-level Waste
contains higher amounts of radioactivity and may require special shielding. It typically comprises resins, chemical sludges and reactor components, as well as contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning. Worldwide it makes up 7% of the volume and has 4% of the radioactivity of all radwaste. It may be solidified in concrete or bitumen for disposal. Generally short-lived waste (mainly from reactors) is buried, but long-lived waste (from reprocessing nuclear fuel) will be disposed of deep underground.

High-level Radioactive Waste
High-level radioactive waste includes radioactive material that results from the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, from spent fuel rods removed from a nuclear power reactor (a machine that splits atoms to make radioactive heat to boil water used for electricity generation); and from nuclear weapons. High-level radioactive waste is currently being stored on-site at weapons manufacturing plants and power plants around the nation until a permanent disposal site can be located.* One potential site, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, is being considered as a repository for high-level waste, including spent nuclear fuel, although it has generated fierce opposition. By 1990 the nation's nuclear plants had produced more than 20,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste.* Texas's two nuclear power plants produce spent fuel rods and other high-level nuclear waste, which is stored in pools of water at the reactors.

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials
Naturally occurring radioactive materials (often referred to as NORMs), can be found virtually anywhere. It is estimated that the average person in the United States is exposed to about 360 millirems of radiation from natural sources each year. In Texas, NORM is found in drinking water, and also includes waste resulting from the mining of uranium and phosphate and from a number of other industrial activities, such as oil and gas production. The mining of uranium results in mountains of radioactive waste referred to as "tailings"—one example of material classified as naturally occurring radioactive material. Tailings are the radioactive soil and sand left on the ground after uranium ore has been crushed and processed for its radioactivity. These wastes contain uranium and radium as well

as a number of toxic chemicals. Increased incidence of cancer in some mine workers has been associated with their exposure to these wastes.* In addition, coal power production, oil and gas exploration and production, fertilizer production, and water treatment can all produce wastes classified as naturally occurring. For example, the insides of oil extraction pipes may be coated with radium, or radium may be brought up to the surface while drilling for oil.* Naturally occurring radioactive wastes are managed apart from other radioactive and toxic wastes. Naturally occurring radioactive material waste is regulated in Texas by three different agencies. The Texas Department of Health's Bureau of Radiation Control regulates the receipt, possession, strorage, use and treatment of NORM, while the Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the disposal of oil and gas NORM waste. Finally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulates disposal of all other NORM waste that does not result from oil and gas production. In oil and gas exploration, development and production, NORM originates in underground formations and can be brought to the surface in the formation water that is produced along with oil and gas, usually in the form of radium 226 and 228 and radon gas. Concentrations of these NORM wastes can occur in sludge that accumulates in oil pits, or become present in well tubulars or other equipment. Under RCT regulations, oil and gas waste containing NORM can no be injected back underground or discharged into surface waters without a permit. Oil and gas producers that are removing pipes from the ground which might contain traces of uranium or other radioactive materials must first get a license from the Department of Health. If they intend to export the waste to another site in Texas, that disposal site must be licensed by the Railroad Commission. As of January 1998, only two off-site disposal sites—Newpark Environmental Services in Winnie, Texas, and Lotus, L.L.C. in Andrews County—were authorized by the Railroad Commission to receive naturally occurring radioactive material waste.* Both use pits and injection wells to dispose of the waste.

Transuranic Waste
Transuranic waste, or TRU, includes waste containing plutonium and other elements heavier than uranium which contain more than 100 nanocuries of alphaemitting isotopes. Transuranic waste is produced mainly from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods, nuclear weapons production, and reactor fuel assembly. The main producer of transuranic waste is the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons production facilities. In 1999 the department began sending transuranic waste for disposal at natural underground salt formations near Carlsbad, New Mexico. This locale is known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP. While the site was certified by the EPA in 1998, it still must receive an operating permit from the New Mexico Environment Department before it can receive other types of radioactive and hazardous waste.* In Texas, tons of plutonium from the nation's nuclear arsenal are being stored at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant some seventeen miles northeast of Amarillo in Carson County. About 2,000 nuclear weapons are being dismantled there each year and stored at the plant site.* The Pantex plant is owned by the Department of Energy and operated under contract by Mason and Hangar-Siles Mason Co. In 1994 the plant was declared a Superfund site and is currently

Wastes from the nuclear fuel cycle
Radioactive wastes occur at all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle - the process of producing electricity from nuclear materials. The fuel cycle comprises the mining and milling of the uranium ore, its processing and fabrication into nuclear fuel, its use in the reactor, the treatment of the used fuel taken from the reactor after use and finally, disposal of the wastes. The fuel cycle is often considered as two parts - the "front end" which stretches from mining through to the use of uranium in the reactor - and the "back end" which covers the removal of used fuel from the reactor and its subsequent treatment and disposal. This is where radioactive wastes are a major issue.

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