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Letter: Interpreting the meaning of high-level waste

Many of us agree that moving radioactive waste out of South Carolina is the right thing to do. The Department of Energy has taken a step to expedite the process by considering an interpretation change to what actually is classified as high-level waste. This would allow for more expeditious treatment and disposal of waste not considered HLW, and most importantly, removal of wastes from states like South Carolina where it has been stored for decades.

On June 5, 2019, DOE announced a revised interpretation of the term high-level radioactive waste and what constitutes HLW. This change would allow DOE to dispose of wastes based on the radiological characteristics and ability to meet appropriate disposal facility requirements. As it exists today, the U.S. classifies high-level waste based on origin – that is – high-level waste is any waste that results from spent nuclear fuel processing. No other country in the world uses a definition based solely on origin but more appropriately makes the determination based on risk.

The revision interpretation of how HLW is defined was not achieved haphazardly. A public comment period resulted in over 5,000 comments from the public, Native American tribes, members of Congress, numerous state and local governments and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These comments were reviewed and considered in formulating the decision.

We applaud DOE’s efforts to examine alternative disposal pathways for waste in our communities that, under the previous interpretation, could only go to a HLW repository. As a first step, DOE is initiating an environmental review to determine if a small amount of water used in the SRS high-level waste process, including water used to clean tanks, can be disposed at a commercial off-site disposal site instead of staying on site as HLW.

Thus, changing the interpretation of the high-level waste definition opens up new avenues for disposition of wastes currently stored at SRS and expedites SRS cleanup.

James Marra, PhD

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Rick McLeod

SRS Community Reuse Organization

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