What Kinds of Waste Might be Low-Activity?
Low-Activity Radioactive Waste
Radioactive wastes from several sources have the potential to meet criteria that would define 'low-activity' wastes:
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) extracted from the earth through mining, drilling, or pumping are processed to create a product. The NORM may be the resource of interest or it may be associated with non-radioactive resources, such as petroleum. The extraction and the processing create Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material wastes, NORM that has been concentrated or exposed by human activity. Some of these wastes may be 'low-activity'.
Wastes from milling NORM to extract uranium or thorium may be subject to the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act, which amended the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). Wastes from such milling operations that were produced at non-Department of Energy sites which had largely ceased production prior to the passage of UMTRCA are referred to as 'pre-UMTRCA' by-product material. Certain pre-UMTRCA by-product materials may be candidate 'low-activity' radioactive wastes.
Source Material from Commercial Facilities
Source material produced by uranium mills for commercial purposes is subject to regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). It is used in the nuclear fuel cycle, research, and industry. (Source material having less than 0.05% uranium or thorium by weight is not actively regulated by NRC.) Spent fuel from the nuclear fuel cycle will be disposed of in DOE's Yucca Mountain repository. Radionuclides produced in some of the low-level and mixed-wastes generated by these processes may be candidates for designation as 'low-activity' wastes. Individual radionuclides generated by these process may be used for research and industrial purposes. After their use, they become low-level waste or mixed-waste which may be candidate 'low-activity' radioactive wastes.
Source Material from DOE Research and Defense Facilities
Source material produced by DOE facilities is subject to DOE regulation and used in research and defense programs. Some some individual radionuclides from research are reused for other research or for industrial purposes. Radionuclides produced from research ultimately become low-level waste or mixed-waste that may be candidate 'low-activity' radioactive wastes. Spent fuel from research reactors will be disposed of in the Yucca Mountain repository. Transuranic wastes from defense programs will be stored in DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. High-level wastes from these programs will be disposed of in DOE's Yucca Mountain repository.
Radioactive materials for research and industry are also produced by accelerators. These materials are not subject to the AEA. Wastes from their production and use are non-AEA wastes and may also be candidate 'low-activity' radioactive wastes.
Low-activity wastes can also be generated from medical applications and from clean-up and reclamation of sites where radioactive materials were used in industrial and government activities. Large quantities of clean-up wastes from DOE sites are currently being disposed of at those sites. However for locations that do not offer settings where adequate containment and isolation can be assured, these wastes may also be candidates for disposal as low-activity wastes.