by Project Censored

Radioactive waste may be joining old tires, banana peels, and other regular garbage at your local landfill. Radioactive waste may be sent to both solid waste and hazardous waste incinerators. Radioactive waste may be flushed down the drain to sewage treatment centers. Radioactive paper and metal may be recycled into consumer products.

All of this will happen if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Environ­mental Protection Agency (EPA), and the nuclear industry implement their latest plan deregulating low level radioactive waste to “Below Regulatory Concern,” (BRC). BRC means that the formerly regulated radioactive waste will not require government regulation for radioactivity. With the stroke of a pen, waste that the government currently regulates as radioactive will become common trash. No labeling, no warning, no notification, no disclo­sure. Simply a cheaper way to dump radioactive waste which is nothing more than another outright subsidy to the nuclear power industry.

If the nuclear power industry application is approved by the NRC, as much as one third of the volume of what is currently considered “low level” radioactive waste from U.S. nuclear power plants will become regular garbage. Waste that is currently considered “mixed” radioactive and hazardous waste will be treated as hazardous only.

The plan also would allow the Department of Energy to take advantage of BRC levels in its massive, $100 billion cleanup effort at the badly contaminated weapons plants across the country.

The proposed BRC policies of NRC and EPA are especially frightening because they will: increase radioactive contamination of the environment, expose workers and the public to increased radiation levels, put the nuclear industry in the driver’s seat to determine amounts of “acceptable” radiation exposure, and strip away state and local rights to protect the public from radiation or to recoup costs in the event of future contamination problems. While the NRC continues to promote deregulation in the United States, it also is pushing the international radiation community to accept its BRC standards. However, it should be noted that at an international conference in October, 1988, “there was virtual unanimity that the NRC’s BRC level was too high.”

Deregulating radioactive waste to “Below Regulatory Concern” could quite possibly be the largest and most dangerous step in recent government history of “defining away” tough problems like radioactive waste and radiation risks. Barry Commoner calls it “linguis­tic detoxification.”

Unfortunately, once radioactive waste is deregulated, no records will be kept on the type of waste disposed of, the place of disposal, or the radioactivity contained in the waste. Further, a decision to implement BRC policies would result in irretrievable releases of radiation. Dr. Martin Steindler, a member of the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste, warned NRC staff members that if they make mistakes in their decisions on BRC levels, or if they find out later that risks were underestimated, it will be too late to do any­thing about it. Future generations will suffer the consequences of BRC.


SOURCE: THE WORKBOOK Box 4524 Albuquerque, NM 87106, DATE: April/June 1989



COMMENTS: The proposed deregulation of radioactive waste “is getting nowhere near the amount of media attention it deserves” according to investigative author Diane D’Arrigo. She noted that the issue had not aired on any network TV news nor been mentioned in the newsweeklies nor The New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Washington Post. She added that the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Washington, D.C., has worked for more than four years to “alert the public to the plots to deregulate radioactive waste” and that when the public becomes aware of the issue, the knowledge has led to action. As a result of local awareness and protest, “Over 50 local and state laws and resolutions have passed prohibiting deregulation of radioactive waste and calling for a reversal in federal policy” on such deregulation. Local protest notwithstanding, on June 27, 1990, the NRC issued the very policy D’Arrigo tried to warn the public and press about. It officially made it possible for the nuclear industry and others to reclassify low-level radioac­tive materials as “below regulatory concern” and dispose of them as if they were regular garbage. For more information about the National Information and Resource Service and its efforts to fight nuclear deregulation efforts, write: NIRS, 1424 16th Street NW, Suite 601, Washington, D.C. 20036.