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Disposing of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material Wastes: A Legal Strategy

July 1992

Citation: ELR 10433

Author: Joseph R. Egan and John F. Seymour

Editors' Summary: Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), which exists at very low levels throughout nature, is found in significant concentrations in over 50 common industrial wastes. EPA estimates that U.S. industry generates tens of billions of metric tons of low activity NORM waste each year. Despite the tremendous volume of NORM waste produced annually, there is only one site in the country that is expressly licensed to receive it. The great majority of NORM waste generated in the United States is buried or stored onsite, ignored, or disposed of without special regulatory oversight. The authors contend that a solution to the problem of NORM waste disposal is for the U.S. government to allow the waste to be disposed of in sites used for the disposal of tailings and wastes from uranium mining and milling. These tailings and associated wastes are categorized under § 11(e) of the Atomic Energy Act as "byproduct" material that may be regulated by the DOE and the NRC. Byproduct materials consisting of uranium or thorium mill tailings and wastes are categorized as 11(e)(2) materials, and sites for the disposal of these materials are known as 11(e)(2) sites. The authors argue that many of the existing 11(e)(2) sites would be logical, secure, and economically viable places to dispose of most NORM wastes. However, the NRC technical staff has issued a recommendation to the NRC commissioners that the NRC should not allow the disposal of NORM at these sites. The authors review state positions on this issue and the implications under RCRA and CERCLA of commingling NORM waste and 11(e)(2) materials. The authors analyze the NRC's position and legal authority and conclude that 11(e)(2) license holders, generators, and other interested parties should negotiate a resolution to the stalemate over this issue with the DOE, the NRC, and EPA.

Joseph R. Egan, formerly a nuclear engineer, is a partner at Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge in Washington, D.C. John F. Seymour is a partner at the same firm.

This Article is reprinted with the permission of the University of Arizona, cosponsor of the Waste Management '92 Symposium held in Tucson, Arizona, March 1-5, 1992, where the paper was first presented.

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