The nation needs to establish a formal, "risk-informed" approach to decide what types and amounts of radioactive waste at U.S. Department of Energy sites should be buried or left in place rather than shipped to a geological repository, such as the one proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nev., says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council.
"Given the controversy surrounding this issue and the reality that not all of the waste will or can be recovered and disposed of off-site, the country needs a structured, well-thought-out way to determine which wastes can stay," said David E. Daniel, chair of the committee that wrote the report and dean, College of Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "Information about the relative risks posed by various disposal options is vital to the decision-making process, and that information must be developed in a manner the public can trust."
The committee did not identify specific wastes that should be approved for alternative disposal. It did find, however, that it is "technically impractical and unnecessary" to remove every last gram of high-level radioactive waste now stored in steel tanks at DOE sites in South Carolina, Washington, and Idaho. Some transuranic waste currently buried at these sites -- which consists of contaminated tools, clothing, and other debris -- may not need to be removed either. The committee did not comment on how waste remaining on-site should be disposed of.
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