“Very Low Level” Nuclear Waste – Comment to the Regulatory Commission by May 15, 2018

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is conducting a very low-level radioactive waste (VLLW) scoping study to identify possible options to improve and strengthen the NRC’s regulatory framework for the disposal of the anticipated large volumes of VLLW associated with the decommissioning of nuclear power plants and material sites, as well as waste that might be generated by alternative waste streams that may be created by operating reprocessing facilities or a radiological event….” – from the Federal Register notice of Feb. 14, 2018.

Although the NRC’s Federal Register notice says that:”… the scoping study will not address non-disposal related disposition pathways including unrestricted release, clearance, reuse, or recycle of materials”, if radioactive wastes are sent to either hazardous waste landfills or municipal landfills, that essentially guarantees the release into nature of long-lasting radioactive materials. (EPA admits that all landfills leak.) This also could accidentally result in reuse or recycle of materials, if nuclear wastes are left unlabeled and untracked, because radioactivity is invisible and often hard to detect, even with the costly equipment needed to detect it. If materials appear attractive for reuse or recycle, then unseen and unlabeled radioactivity won’t be a deterrence.

From the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS):
Tell NRC by May 15, 2018: No Nuclear Waste in landfills
NO VLLW — Very Large Loophole Waste

Email them at this address: <VLLW_ScopingStudy@nrc.gov>
underscore between W_ and Scoping in the email address)
Or comment online here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NRC-2018-0026-0001

Keep nuclear waste under control–not in landfills, incinerators, consumer goods, zippers and baby toys!
Stop the latest push to deregulate and disperse nuclear power waste: “VLLW”

 The simple message to the NRC is:  Keep all nuclear waste under radioactive regulatory control!  NO VLLW!

IT’S RADIOACTIVE—Don’t mix it with hazardous waste or regular trash—ISOLATE IT


NRC wants public input on a “scoping study” intended to justify calling some nuclear waste “very low level waste” or VLLW. We call it “Very Large Loophole Waste.” Massive amounts of nuclear power waste would be allowed to go to regular garbage dumps, to industrial or hazardous waste sites, possibly into incinerators and recycling facilities to make everyday household and personal-use items (although the scoping study will consider landfills only).  Huge amounts of dangerous but hard-to-detect nuclear wastes would no longer be regulated as radioactive and would have “alternative methods of disposal,” not at licensed radioactive waste sites.



The nuclear industry wants NRC to allow additional radioactive doses to workers and the public. They calculate that 5 millirems a year additional dose to those exposed would enable 2/3 of decommissioning waste from closed nuclear power reactors to go to unregulated destinations, saving $6 Billion dollars. A tenth of the radioactive waste from nuclear power operations could also be treated as VLLW or not radioactive and dispersed to cheaper destinations. Hazardous dumps charge a tenth as much as radioactive licensed sites, and solid waste sites even less. Imagine the savings if they can sell it into recycling.

Unenforceable, unverifiable dose limits are a blank check to send nuclear waste out as if it is not radioactive. The industry would make its own determinations, with no enforcement or verification. It’s the fox guarding the chicken house… Using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “Blue Book” radiation risk information, 1 in every 2500 people exposed will get cancer from an additional 5 millirems/year lifetime dose. That would be from every deregulated waste stream and there is no limit on the number of waste streams from the hundred plus nuclear reactors  and the dozens of other nuclear power fuel chain facilities needed to enable nuclear power.

The public completely defeated many previous efforts to declare nuclear waste Below Regulatory Control; this is a new name for the same dangerous, deadly plan: VLLW- Very Large Loophole nuclear Waste.

VLLW nuclear power waste would be treated as if it’s not radioactive; it would be disposed of or reused without radioactive regulation or control, trusting that other solid and hazardous waste regulations will protect us even though those dumps are not designed for nuclear waste and the health effects are even worse when exposed to radioactive and hazardous waste. Solid and hazardous waste sites all leak eventually and the nuclear will still be dangerous.


It’s bad enough that NRC already lets some nuclear waste out of control on a case by case basis (under 10 CFR20.2002) with calculations, review and potential public input. The new VLLW classification is intended to open the door to routine, generic release of unlimited amounts of waste with NO public notification or opportunity to intervene or even comment.


The industry is promoting this now because enormous nuclear power reactors are closing. They expect 84 billion cubic feet of “class A” radioactive waste and would like to release 66% of it. Entire reactors, the whole building and most of the components and parts became radioactive. They are considered nuclear waste under federal regulations (10 CFR 61.55). NRC is exploring ways to change those regulations to help the nuclear industry avoid having to pay for licensed disposal and to relieve the nuclear power industry of liability for this waste.

The simple message to the NRC is NO VLLW! Keep all nuclear waste under radioactive regulatory control!

NIRS answers to the 9 questions posed by NRC are provided below.  More Background follows.

ID: NRC-2018-0026-0001

NIRS answers to 9 Questions posed by NRC regarding VLLW—Very Large Loophole radioactive Waste

  1. The United States does not have a formal regulatory definition of VLLW. What should the NRC consider in developing its own regulatory definition for VLLW? Is there another definition of VLLW that should be considered? Provide a basis for your response.

THE NRC should NOT waste its and taxpayers resources creating a new category within the “low-level” waste category.

This is clearly an effort to reduce and remove radioactive regulatory controls which are already inadequate to protect the public and environment from man-made radioactive materials and wastes.

US NRC should be discouraging international nuclear promotion and guidance organizations, in which NRC plays very influential roles, NOT to proceed with developing a VLLW category.

It disperses rather isolates the radioactivity and isolation should be the goal.

  1. The existing regulatory framework within 10 CFR 61.55 divides low-level radioactive waste into four categories: Class A, Class B, Class C, and Greater Than Class C. Should the NRC revise the waste classification system to establish a new category for VLLW?


What criteria should NRC consider in establishing the boundary between Class A and VLLW categories?

Since NRC should not be creating the new VLLW category, there is no need to waste resources on it. Rather NRC should use any available resources to provide greater regulatory control and to document that control as more and more nuclear facilities close and decommission.

  1. The NRC’s alternative disposal request guidance entitled, “Review, Approval, and Documentation of Low-Activity Waste Disposals in Accordance with 10 CFR 20.2002 and 10 CFR 40.13(a),” which is undergoing a revision, allows for alternative disposal methods that are different from those already defined in the regulations and is most often used for burial of waste in hazardous or solid waste landfills permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Should the NRC expand the existing guidance to include VLLW disposal or consider the development of a new guidance for VLLW disposal?


Why or why not?

It is bad enough that NRC allows radioactive waste out of radioactive control on a case by case basis as in 10 CFR 20.2002. Making this a generic approval as a new VLLW category will only make that worse and remove any opportunity for public knowledge and input by the very public that would be harmed by the re-categorization.

  1. If the NRC were to create a new waste category for VLLW in 10 CFR part 61, what potential compatibility issues related to the approval of VLLW disposal by NRC Agreement States need to be considered and addressed? How might defining VLLW affect NRC Agreement State regulatory programs in terms of additional responsibilities or resources?

Members of the public and residents of agreement states appreciate the potential for states (whether an agreement state or not) to be more protective than the federal government. NRC has various compatibility levels for its regulations. The NRC should NOT make any regulations that weaken public protection, but since that is what is being considered here, NRC should not force states to do the same and should expressly clarify that states can retain requirements for radioactive regulatory control.

  1. Following the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985, states formed regional compacts for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste. If the NRC were to create a new waste category for VLLW, does it fall within regional compact authority to control VLLW management and disposal? How might defining VLLW affect regional compacts in terms of additional responsibilities or resources?

Since VLLW is currently Class LLRW, states and compacts have authority. Even if NRC tries to redefine LLRW to exempt or remove radioactive controls, the states have authority over that material. If NRC wants to require states and compacts to adopt the VLLW category and release it from controls, it must go through Congress. Changing the regulations should not affect the existing states’ rights.

  1. Environmental Protection Agency-imposed waste analysis requirements for facilities that generate, treat, store, and dispose of hazardous wastes are defined in 40 CFR parts 264 through 270. How would NRC incorporate and apply waste analysis requirements for VLLW at RCRA Subtitle C and D facilities? Should the NRC impose concentration limits and/or treatment standards for VLLW disposal?

The public has repeatedly, over the last 30 years, opposed and stopped the efforts to allow radioactive waste into hazardous facilities and hazardous waste into radioactive facilities.
There is no technical justification for putting radioactive materials into solid and hazardous waste facilities…it is obvious this is only being done because such facilities charge less than radioactive licensed facilities.

  1. Are there any unintended consequences associated with developing a VLLW waste category?

Whether intentional or not, developing a VLLW category will disperse radioactive materials/wastes that should be isolated. A basic international principle of ionizing radiation protection is to prevent and minimize exposures. Spreading the waste to locations not even intended to manage or track radioactivity is irresponsible and a clear effort to externalize the costs of nuclear waste production. The consequences will be multiple, additive, cumulative and synergistic health effects and blatant externalization of nuclear power costs.

  1. What analytical methods/tools should be used to assess the risk of disposing of VLLW at licensed LLW disposal facilities or RCRA Subtitle C and D facilities? (i.e., generic or site-specific)

We oppose any pseudo-scientific analysis, assessment or rationalization for dispersing man-made radioactivity from radioactive regulatory control.

  1. How should economic factors be considered in the VLLW Scoping Study?

Until the NRC admits that there are health effects from low continuous doses of radiation, the Commission is incapable of assessing the true economic consequences (including health effects) of the widespread releases and exposures that creating a VLLW category would cause. Health effects are inevitable but not tracked. Those costs to society and individuals need to be calculated and considered rather than completely ignored and denied.

VLLW Background:

Nuclear power reactors MAKE nuclear waste and BECOME nuclear waste. Radioactive gasses seep into concrete lodging and decay to other radioactive elements. Metal parts in the core that are bombarded with neutrons during nuclear power production become activated–radioactive metal. As nuclear power reactors and other factories along the nuclear fuel chain close, the whole building with its parts and the contaminated soil and ground must be isolated from the environment and the public. Instead of paying to manage it as the nuclear waste it is, the government and industry are trying to reclassify the waste so it can be dumped or recycled as if it is not radioactive. Because it is expensive to detect and monitor radioactivity, they could get away with murder.

This would include every kind of radioactive element, including strontium (bone-seeker that causes leukemia and bone cancer), cesium (muscle seeker-goes to the heart), plutonium (powerful carcinogen concentrating in lungs, liver and bones), tritium (radioactive hydrogen can infiltrate our DNA/genetic material) and hundreds of others, some very long-lasting– literally millions of years.  They can cause cancer, reduced immunity, heart disease, birth defects and other serious health effects! This is essentially deregulating, abandoning and deliberately spreading radioactive wastes, as landfills cannot isolate these wastes from our food chain and biosphere, as the NRC states they will in their Feb 14, 2018, Federal Register notice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has admitted that all landfills leak.

U.S. nuclear promoters and “regulators” have tried to get the public to agree to deregulation of radioactive wastes dozens of times since the beginning of the Atomic Age, to spare the nuclear industry, the NRC and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from the enormous expense, responsibility and liability that comes with protecting public health and safety, our shared environment and the genetic health of all future generations from these dangerous radioactive wastes. Each time, the U.S. public soundly defeated every known attempt to deregulate radioactive wastes!

Many of these radionuclides remain dangerous thousands and millions of years so the decision to release them from nuclear controls in an irreversible, permanent threat to the environment and all future generations of all species.  For example, plutonium remains hazardous for a quarter to a half million years. Very small amounts of radioactive substances can do great, irreversible damage to the health of humans and Earth’s ecosystems. (As an example, John Gofman MD, PhD, a Manhattan Project scientist and former director of biomedical research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, stated that even one-millionth of a gram of plutonium inhaled into the lung, will cause lung cancer within 20 years.) Women and children are more susceptible to health impacts than men, who are also at risk.

This back-door deregulation could also lead to contaminated scrap metal, concrete, asphalt, wood, plastics, soil and other contaminated items and materials getting into our recycled materials supply, our communities and our homes. Once at a municipal landfill, there will be nothing to designate these materials as radioactive. There is nothing to protect people who scrounge or recycle “found” materials at dumps, from taking VLLW contaminated materials – especially if a landfill fails to detect materials contaminated with dangerous and long-lived alpha-emitters. Gamma detecting scanners used at landfills cannot detect alpha or beta radiation. Landfills with methane burners may release tritium and other radioactive substances into the air.

Help protect us, our communities and future generations! Email comments by May 15th 2018, to: <VLLW_ScopingStudy@nrc.gov>Note that there is an underscore ( _ ) between VLLW and Scoping Study words in the email address, not visible in some formats.

See the Federal Register Notice here: “Very Low-Level Radioactive Waste Scoping Study”–


Note: the term “low-level” radioactive  waste is deceptive and can mean very high risk to humans and other life.

Learn more:

“’Low-Level’ Radioactive Waste is Not Low Risk”  http://archives.nirs.us/factsheets/llwnolowrisk.pdf 

Nuclear Information and Resource Service Factsheet, 2007

Sierra Club Fact Sheet on “Low Level” Radioactive Waste Low Level Radioactive Waste

References for Very Low Level Waste – Very Large Loophole Wastes

Learn more about powerful citizen opposition to the attempts to deregulate nuclear waste in the U.S.A. and the secretive, sneaky ways both industry and regulators have gotten around standard rulemaking. It’s all here in this report:   Out of Control – On Purpose: DOE’s Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products – Principal Authors: Diane D’Arrigo, Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Print Version, May 14, 2007, Nuclear Information and Resource Service:

Very Low-Level Radioactive Waste Scoping Study – A Federal Register Notice by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 02/14/2018 – Comment period ending 5/15/2018 – See: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/14/2018-03083/very-low-level-radioactive-waste-scoping-study

Or PDF of Federal Register notice: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-02-14/pdf/2018-03083.pdf

Federal Register Notice (as posted in www.regulations.gov/ ) seeking public comments by May 15, 2018 on new NRC classification of radioactive wastes as “Very Low Level Wastes”


Regulatory Information Conference 2018 Session detail on VLLWT10 – “Transforming Low-Level Radioactive Waste Framework to Meet Emerging Issues and Challenges” March 13, 2018, The NRC is conducting a Very Low-Level Waste (VLLW) Scoping Study to explore possible options to improve and strengthen its regulatory framework for the disposal of the anticipated large volumes of VLLW associated with the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, and waste that might be generated by alternative waste streams created by fuel reprocessing or a radiological event.  This session will focus on the management of VLLW from varying perspectives. https://ric.nrc.gov/m/sessionDetail.aspx?ID=11

EPRI – Basis for National and International Low Activity and Very Low Level Waste Disposal Classifications – 2012 Technical Report – https://www.epri.com/#/pages/product/1024844/

EPRI – Generic Technical Basis for Implementing a Very Low Level Waste Category for Disposal of Low Activity Radioactive Wastes – 2013 Technical Report


NRC Website: https://www.nrc.gov/waste/llw-disposal/very-llw.html

Diane D’Arrigo, NIRS – Nuclear Information and Resource Service, dianed@nirs.org
Kay Cumbow, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Great Lakes Environmental Alliance,  kcumbow(at)greatlakes.net
May 2018


2 Replies to ““Very Low Level” Nuclear Waste – Comment to the Regulatory Commission by May 15, 2018”

  1. Absolutely do not allow ANY nuclear waste to go to land fills . The waste must be kept is secure containers on site or in a secure facility where the public can be protected. There is no safe dose of radiation.

  2. We are in full agreement with Diane D’Arrigo’s concerns about putting any kind of radioactive waste into a municipal landfill, “very low level” included! (See http://www.caccmi.org/comment-to-the-regulatory-commission-by-may-15-2018/)

    When will people learn from the mistakes of their predecessors? Radioactivity doesn’t go away. End the whole nuclear era … safely. Much better way to spend tax dollars on safety than on weapons and war.

    PS – Ruth Thomas was told on May 15, 2015, by David McIntyre of the NRC that comments are not due on low-level waste at this time, there would be a scoping comment period soon, but we’re commenting anyway.