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Disposal of Naturally Occurring and Accelerator-Produced Wastes

Sources and Volume

Accelerator-Produced Materials

Accelerator-produced radioactive waste is produced during the operation of atomic particle accelerators for medical, research, or industrial purposes. The accelerators use magnetic fields to move atomic particles at higher and higher speeds before crashing into a preselected target. This reaction produces desired radioactive materials in metallic targets or kills cancer cells where a cancer tumor is the target. The radioactivity contained in the waste from accelerators is generally short-lived, less than one year. The waste may be stored at laboratories or production facilities until it is no longer radioactive. An extremely small fraction of the waste may retain some longer-lived radioactivity with half lives greater than one year. There are no firm estimates of the amount of this type of radioactive waste; however, it is generally accepted that the volume is extremely small compared to the other wastes discussed.

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Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)

Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) generally contain radionuclides found in nature. Once NORM becomes concentrated through human activity, such as mineral extraction, it can become a radioactive waste. There are two types of naturally occurring radioactive waste: discrete and diffuse. The first, discrete NORM, has a relatively high radioactivity concentration in a very small volume, such as a radium source used in medical procedures. Estimates of the volumes of discrete NORM waste are imprecise, and the EPA is conducting studies to provide a more accurate assessment of how much of this waste requires attention. Because of its relatively high concentration of radioactivity, this type of waste poses a direct radiation exposure hazard.

The second type, diffuse NORM, has a much lower concentration of radioactivity, but a high volume of waste. This type of waste poses a different type of disposal problem because of its high volume. The following are six sources of such naturally occurring radioactive materials.

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For More Information

The safe disposal of radioactive waste is a very important issue today. Radioactive waste disposal standards have changed substantially with improved technology and evolving environmental protection considerations.

Regulatory programs and standards continue to change, so if you would like more information on the disposal of radioactive waste, write to:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Radiation and Indoor Air
Radiation Protection Division
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW  (MC 6608J)
Washington, DC 20460-0001


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