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Radioactive Waste Dispersal into Consumer Goods, Raw Materials and Regular Trash

Radioactive wastes from the nuclear power and nuclear weapons are being released into the general materials recycling stream and used to make everyday household items, building materials, and more. There is no limit on what nuclear waste can go into—frying pans, belt buckles, dental braces, hip replacement joints, tableware, toys, cosmetics, gardening soil, bedsprings, seats, furniture, cars, building supplies, jewelry, basements, buildings, playgrounds...

Rather than prohibiting and preventing nuclear waste from getting into the marketplace and daily-use items, ‘standards’ are being developed to dramatically increase and legalize the amount of radioactivity dispersed into the marketplace. The US Department of Energy (DOE), US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), US Department of Transportation (DOT), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), California Department of Health Services, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), European Commission & Euratom (European atomic energy agency) and other nuclear nations’ governments and industries are actively promoting radioactive “recycling” or dispersal. California and Pennsylvania are facilitating deregulation of radioactive waste by permitting it to go landfills that are not intended to take nuclear materials.

The materials being dispersed into consumer goods include radioactive metals, concrete, plastics, wood, asphalt, soils, equipment, and more from nuclear power and weapons fuel chain facilities. Once these materials enter the general recycling stream they are no longer traceable to their sources. In the absence of sophisticated, expensive detection equipment and systems, the public will have no way of knowing which items may be contaminated. Manufacturers and workers will be unaware if the materials with which they work are radioactively contaminated.

No Safe Dose and Prohibiting Contamination vs. “Acceptable” Legal Dose

The potential impact on public health is enormous because there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiation. Low-level radiation damages tissues, cells, DNA and other vital molecules, causing programmed cell death (apoptosis), genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders. Long-term exposures to low levels of ionizing radiation can be more dangerous than short exposures to high levels. The practice of releasing and dispersing radioactively contaminated materials in general commerce will result in random poisoning.

The regulatory and Congressional efforts, unfortunately, are now moving to set legal contamination “standards” rather than prohibiting release of contaminated materials. Your Congress-members and elected officials at every level need to hear from you, now.

Government agencies are legalizing dispersal of radioactive materials by setting “acceptable” levels of exposure, which cannot be verified or enforced. Even if there was a safe or legal level of radiation exposure, would you trust the DOE, NRC or other government agency or the nuclear industry to release only as much contamination as would lead to that dose?

In 1992, the US Congress revoked NRC policies that declared some radiation exposures “below regulatory concern (BRC).” Current government efforts are dressing up the rejected BRC policy by applying the environmentally friendly sounding term “recycling.”

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, sixteen states including Pennsylvania passed laws or regulations opposing BRC. Pennsylvania’s law requires radioactive wastes to go to facilities specifically licensed for radioactive material. Now, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), after adopting “guidance” that permits radioactivity in landfills, is entertaining at least one application for an unlicensed landfill to accept radioactively contaminated materials.

DOT is sneaking in radioactive transport deregulation when greater control is needed.

The US Department of Transportation in 2001, published its final, updated rule on international radioactive transport, but is waiting to adopt the section that would exempt various amounts of every radioactive isotope from transport regulation until a final decision is made for US domestic transport rules. From 2002 to 2003, the US DOT and US NRC are in the process of adopting the same international exemptions for all domestic US nuclear materials transportation. Hundreds of radionuclides including plutonium, strontium and cobalt would no longer require regulatory control during transport if shippers claim exempt levels.

The upshot is that, unless public opposition is strong, DOT and NRC will stop regulating nuclear transport into, out of, through and within the US, if shippers claim only exempt amounts of radioactivity are present in the cargo. Those “exempt” levels are, by design, the very same ones as those that EURATOM (the European Union atomic energy agency) is forcing European countries to adopt to permit radioactivity into consumer goods used daily.

Previous uniform international nuclear transport regulations that require labeling and regulation of radioactive materials are being changed around the world. The US and EURATOM are leading the way to allow deregulated radioactive waste to move through commerce unimpeded, unregulated and without public knowledge. Ironically, this reduction in radioactive transport regulations is being approved at the very same time that governments claim they want to keep better controls on nuclear materials to prevent dirty bombs. Won’t it be harder to detect dirty bomb materials is all sorts of radioactive materials are being routinely shipped unlabeled?

Internationally, the IAEA, through its affiliation with the United Nations and its transport organizations (International Maritime Organization and International Civil Aeronautics Organization), is working to get all UN member nations to adopt the industry/Euratom/IAEA- developed transport recommendations (referred to as TS-R-1 or ST-1), which will open the doors between nations for international commerce in contaminated materials and consumer goods. If the exemption tables in the IAEA recommendations are adopted internationally, it will be even harder to prevent the growing spread of contaminated household items and raw materials.

DOE is releasing contaminated materials other than some metals (banned from free release until after an Environmental Impact Statement); draft EIS due for comment Spring 2003.

Although the Department of Energy (DOE) quietly continues to release and ‘recycle’ some radioactive materials into general commerce, there has been a halt, since 2000, on the release of some potentially radioactive metal. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is being carried out by DOE’s Environmental Management Office to review some aspects of the DOE radioactive "release" and "recycling" policy. DOE has still not answered important questions about the conflict of interest and predetermined outcome of the EIS. DOE wants the scope of the EIS to cover only surface contaminated radioactive metal that is now in designated radiological control areas, but the public is calling for a full review of all potentially contaminated materials and wastes, not just metal in certain areas. The DOE’s internal orders (5400.5) allow radioactive materials, including metals, to be released into regular garbage or recycled into commerce without public knowledge and/or meaningful record-keeping.

DOE has a "Center for Excellence" in radioactive recycling based in and funded through its Oak Ridge, Tennessee site budget. The Center actively promotes “recycling” into commerce of radioactive materials such as copper from throughout the DOE complex. DOE tried, in December 2001, to resume releasing potentially contaminated metals, while its Environmental Impact Statement on that very issue is underway. After public and steel industry pressure, DOE now claims not to be letting metal out for recycling into the marketplace from radiological areas.

NRC and Agreement States allow some radioactive waste out now, and are working to legalize the routine with new “standards,” as well as through individual exemptions, rulemakings, and license changes.

The NRC currently allows some radioactively contaminated materials to be released, reused, “recycled,” or otherwise treated as if they were not radioactive through provisions in licenses and case-by-case evaluations. NRC announced it will make a rule on the “control of release” of solid radioactive materials- in other words- it is legalizing dispersal into commerce.

States, like Tennessee, have issued over a dozen permits
to companies to "process" and release radioactive materials into regular commerce. So, as with DOE sites, commercial nuclear licensees can do either or both: (a) directly release some contaminated materials to commerce, recycling or unlicensed landfills and (b) send radioactive materials to processors to treat and then release into the marketplace. California’s Health Department is attempting to misuse decommissioning standards to justify allowing radioactively contaminated materials into regular landfills and recycling to make consumer goods. A citizen lawsuit and appeal have slowed this practice, but the state “regulator” is pushing to permit nuclear materials in daily commerce, consumer goods and unregulated waste facilities.

NRC has at least 5 efforts underway to legalize radioactive deregulation including:

1) rulemaking on “Control of Release of Radioactive Solid Materials;” (rulemaking schedule expected in Jan. 2003)

2) changes in decommissioning requirements (Public Comments due Dec. 26, 2002)

3) reducing the “significance determination” for licensees when nuclear materials are found offsite of reactors and outside of radiation control areas on reactor sites (NRC meets regularly with Nuclear Energy Institute to make industry-requested changes. Last meeting was in November 2002 and draft proposals were submitted to NRC by Nuclear Energy Institute);

4) relaxing transportation regulations (Public Comment period ended July 29, 2002 so elected officials and Transportation Secretary Mineta need to hear from concerned public now);

5) adopting highly technical and expensive procedures for identifying what is considered radioactively contaminated and putting the burden of proof on the public, (Public Comments on NUREG 1761 were due Nov. 29, 2002 but will be considered if received by early Jan. 2003);

6) changing and increasing the number of allowable methods for calculating doses to claim that more radiation supposedly gives lower doses (final rule approved Sept. 30, 2002 )


Get Petitions signed and Resolutions passed to prohibit dispersal of radioactive waste into daily commerce in the locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Work to pass state laws to protect residents and to reign in “regulators” who are anxious to promote the nuclear industry agenda or adopt international and federal provisions that do so.

Write letters and articles for newspapers, newsletters, and to decision-makers at every level.

Get local manufacturers to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement refusing to produce products with materials originating from nuclear operations.

1 Consolidated Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards Decommissioning Guidance: Characterization, Survey and Determination of Radiological Criteria; NUREG 1757 Volume 2, [67 Federal Register 187: 60707-60708, September 26, 2002].

2 NRC meeting at Rockville, MD headquarters, White Flint 1, with Nuclear Energy Institute. To call into future meetings on the Bridge-line contact Steve Klementowicz at NRC 301-415-1084.

3 See NIRS’ and multi-groups’ Transportation comments to DOT and NRC on NIRS website

4 67 Fed. Reg. 167:55280 Aug. 28, 2002, Notice of Issuance of Draft NUREG for Public Comment.

5 Completed rule change, Result of June 2001 or 2000 request by Entergy, 67 Federal Register 181:58826-58829 September 18, 2002].


►For the greatest impact, your local, state and federal elected officials need to hear from you!

►US Representative ______, US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515;

►both US Senators ______, US Senate Washington, DC 20510;

Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121 and 202-225-3121. (Calls & faxes are better than mailing to Congress these days.)

►Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, US Dept of Transportation, 400 Seventh St. SW, Washington, DC 20590; Fax 202-366-7202;

►Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, US Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC, 20585; Fax: 202-586-4403;

►Chairman Richard Meserve, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555; Fax 301-415-1757;

FOR MORE INFO: contact: Diane D’Arrigo, NIRS 202-328-0002 ext 16;

Updated December 2002

For More Information:

landfill radiation

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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