Blended waste and Utah
As the executive secretary of the Utah Radiation Control Board, I made the decision to allow EnergySolutions to bring in a defined quantity (less than 1 percent of the total annual volume) of blended radioactive waste to its permanent storage facility at Clive prior to approval of an updated performance assessment.
Let me be clear. EnergySolutions is currently licensed to take this type of blended waste and the facility is designed and built to dispose of it in a manner protective of public health and the environment. However, there are two factors that necessitate an updated performance assessment: 1) EnergySolutions proposes to take large quantities and, 2) since EnergySolutions' last PA, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has published new guidance that specifically addresses blending at larger quantities.
Criticism has focused on a misguided perception that blended waste is inherently different and more radioactive than typical Class A low-level waste. This is simply not the case.
SempraSafe waste [a joint venture between EnergySolutions and Studsvik Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Sweden's Studsvik Holding] is unique in terms of addressing processed and blended waste because of how it fits within NRC's guidance and not because no other blended Class A waste has ever been managed at Clive.
Additionally, waste received at the Studsvik facility in Tennessee for processing is not classified since classification only occurs at the time of packaging for disposal, not for processing or other non-disposal management activities.
This means that the Studsvik facility does not, under existing regulation, receive waste that is already classified as Class B or Class C. It may receive waste that has radioactivity levels or concentrations associated with such classification levels, but that is not the point in the waste management system that is required by federal and state regulation to determine the appropriate waste classification.
There has been criticism over the state Division of Radiation Control permitting EnergySolutions to receive 40,000 cubic feet a year of blended waste while the company completes its performance plan. The fact is, we're actually placing a conservative limit on a waste the company can already accept. This limited annual volume protects public health and prohibits EnergySolutions from taking larger volumes until the study is completed.
In making this decision, I had to consider a number of factors: First, the division earlier this year adopted changes to the radiation control rules that establish criteria as to when a new PA is required for the disposal of certain low-level radioactive wastes when a 10 percent threshold is reached. Second, the NRC guidance on large-scale blending that was issued in March.
The Division of Radiation Control reviewed EnergySolutions' proposal with respect to the new criteria adopted by the Radiation Control Board, as well as NRC guidance regarding waste produced from large-scale blending operations, and we found that EnergySolutions needed to update its performance assessment to reflect federal guidance and regulations.
The issue of blending higher-concentrated low-level radioactive waste with lower concentrations has come to the forefront because of lack of disposal access for industry in 36 states with Class B and C radioactive waste. It's an industry response to find safe disposal solutions for low-level radioactive waste.
In our commitment to protect public health and the environment, the DRC is working to make sure disposal is done safely, protective of public health and the environment, and in accordance with state and federal regulations.
Rusty Lundberg is director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Radiation Control and executive secretary of the Radiation Control Board.