Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
Nearly 10,000 comments were submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) condemning the agency’s plan to deliberately allow radioactive waste, mainly from nuclear power reactors, to go into regular garbage dumps and other landfills that do not have radioactive waste licenses.
In one letter, Roxanne Brown, vice president of the United Steel Workers, wrote, “Putting nuclear waste, of any dosage level, in the hands of undertrained and unqualified workers is not only a bad decision for business and the environment, but hazardous to the people doing the work.”
The NRC proposes to “interpret” its rules, which now require radioactive waste to go to licensed sites. The change would allow waste to be sent to any dump granted a “specific exemption” by the NRC. “Exempt” landfills would be allowed to expose the public to as much radiation as operating nuclear power reactors or licensed nuclear waste sites—a level of exposure that can give cancer to one in every 500 people exposed over their lifetimes, according to Environmental Protection Agency calculations.
“Since there is no safe level of radiation exposure, all industrially generated nuclear waste needs to be isolated, not dispersed into landfills, air, water and possibly even recycled consumer goods,” said Diane D’Arrigo, who has spent 30 years following the issue for the non-profit Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). “The big concern is the radioactive danger to current and future generations and the unlimited amount of radioactivity released to the environment. Most commenters don’t like that there is no public notice or opportunity to even know if their local landfill gets ‘exempt’ authorization from the NRC,” D’Arrigo said.
“This proposal is sure to spawn fly-by-night dump operations on vacant lots, in urban renewal excavations, and on brownfield sites of old factories,” said Terry Lodge, a Toledo-based environmental attorney working for NIRS. “As usual, the poor and most vulnerable populations will be the collateral damage from this dark atom that was supposed to save us.”