In the US, “low-level” radioactive waste classifies all commercial nuclear waste, except irradiated fuel from nuclear reactors, which is classified as high-level radioactive waste. In Canada and most of Europe, this same range of waste is considered “low” and “intermediate” level.
Despite its misnomer, “low” and “intermediate” level waste include the same long-lasting, deadly radionuclides as high-level radioactive waste, and sometimes in greater concentrations.
Although no location or technology has been selected to isolate the waste as long as it is radioactively hazardous, the nuclear industry continues to create more.
Nuclear power reactors generate nuclear waste and the reactors themselves become nuclear waste.
Radioactive gasses seep into concrete lodging and decay becoming other radioactive elements. Metal parts in the reactor’s core are bombarded with neutrons during nuclear power production process and become activated radioactive metal. As nuclear power reactors and other processing factories that are a part of the nuclear fuel chain shut down, the buildings and their parts, the soil, the uniforms employees wore, the tools used to service reactors and other machinery, etc. has become contaminated with radioactivity, and must be isolated from the environment and the public.
VLLW (Very Large Loophole Waste)
Instead of paying to manage these contaminated items as the nuclear waste it is, the Department of Energy (DOE) and nuclear industry are attempting to reclassify the waste as “Very Low- Level” so it can be dumoed in landfills and/or incinerators, or recycled with consumer goods. Because it is expensive to detect and monitor radioactivity, they could get away with murder.
The radioactive elements that have contaminated these items include:
- 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)
- hundreds of others, some very long-lasting– literally millions of years.
These radioactive elements can cause cancer, reduced immunity, heart disease, birth defects and other serious health effects! Reclassifying radiaxtive waste as “very low-level waste” is essentially deregulating, abandoning, and deliberately releasing radioactive waste into our communities and households, as landfills cannot isolate these wastes from our food chain and biosphere, despite the NRC’s claims 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 waste dozens of times since the beginning of the Atomic Age. Their goal has been to shield the nuclear industry, the NRC, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) against the enormous expense, responsibility, and liability that comes with protecting public health and safety, the environment, and the genetic health of all future generations of all species from these dangerous radioactive wastes. Each time, the U.S. public soundly defeated every known attempt to deregulate radioactive wastes.
Very small amounts of radioactive substances can do great, irreversible damage to the health of humans and Earth’s ecosystems. For example, plutonium remains hazardous for a quarter to a half million years. 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 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 collect 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.
The term “low-level” radioactive waste is deceptive and can mean very high risk to humans and other life.
- NIRS Answers 9 Questions Posed by the NRC Regarding VLLW—Very Large Loophole (radioactive) Waste
- “Low-Level’ Radioactive Waste is Not Low Risk”
- Sierra Club Fact Sheet on “Low Level” Radioactive Waste
- Out of Control – On Purpose: DOE’s Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products
- Very Low-Level Radioactive Waste Scoping Study
- EPRI – Basis for National and International Low Activity and Very Low-Level Waste Disposal Classifications (2012 Technical Report)
- 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
The Texas Vermont “low-level” radioactive waste disposal compact commission is considering opening up to out-of-compact waste –commercial so-called “low-level” radioactive waste from other than TX and VT. Comments against the proposed rule were submitted by a coalition of concerned organizations.
Resolution by Great Lakes United calling for complete cleanup of West Valley radioactive waste and opposing the DOE’s threat to declassify high level reprocessing waste to “low-level (Waste Incidental to Reprocessing, WIR). For more on the declassification battle see http://ananuclear.org/HLWpage.html