oversight

Low-Level Radioactive Wastes: States Are Not Developing Disposal Facilities

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-09-17.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Chairman, Committee on
                  Energy and Natural Resources, U.S.
                  Senate


September 1999
                  LOW-LEVEL
                  RADIOACTIVE WASTES
                  States Are Not Developing
                  Disposal Facilities




GAO/RCED-99-238
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-283126

      September 17, 1999

      The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski
      Chairman, Committee on Energy and
        Natural Resources
      United States Senate

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      This report responds to your request that we review the status of the management and disposal
      of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes, including the progress of states and
      compacts of states in developing new disposal facilities.

      Unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report
      until 30 days after the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to the appropriate
      congressional committees; the Honorable Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy; the Honorable
      Greta Jo Dicus, Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and the Honorable Jacob J. Lew,
      Director, Office of Management and Budget. We will also make copies available to others upon
      request.

      Please contact me at (202) 512-3841 if you or your staff have any questions about this report.
      Key contributors to this report are listed in Appendix VI.

      Sincerely yours,




      (Ms.) Gary L. Jones
      Associate Director, Energy, Resources,
        and Science Issues
Executive Summary


                 States, acting alone or within compacts of two or more, have collectively
                 spent almost $600 million over the last 18 years attempting to find and
                 develop about 10 sites for disposing of commercially generated low-level
                 radioactive wastes. Commercial low-level radioactive wastes come from
                 nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, and institutions such as
                 hospitals and universities that use radioactive materials for diagnosis,
                 treatment, and research. Low-level wastes include such things as metal
                 components, resins, filters, rags, paper, liquid, glass, and protective
                 clothing, that have been exposed to radioactivity or contaminated with
                 radioactive material. Most commercial low-level radioactive wastes are
                 generated by over 100 nuclear power plants nationwide. In 1980 and 1985,
                 the Congress enacted, then amended, legislation encouraging states to
                 form compacts and provide regional disposal facilities by the end of 1992.

                 Concerned that no new facilities for disposing of low-level radioactive
                 wastes have opened under the auspices of the Low-Level Radioactive
                 Waste Policy Act of 1980, as amended, the Chairman, Senate Committee
                 on Energy and Natural Resources, requested that GAO review

             •   the status of states’ and compacts’ efforts to establish new disposal
                 facilities;
             •   the status of the management and disposal of commercially generated
                 low-level radioactive wastes, including the continued availability of the
                 three existing disposal facilities, the volume of wastes disposed of, and the
                 wastes, if any, that are not authorized for disposal at the existing facilities;
                 and
             •   alternative approaches to managing and disposing of commercially
                 generated low-level radioactive wastes.


                 The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980, as amended in 1985,
Background       established as federal policy that commercial low-level radioactive waste
                 can be most safely and effectively managed by states on a regional basis.
                 The objectives of these two acts were to provide for more disposal
                 capacity on a regional basis and to more equitably distribute the
                 responsibility for the management of low-level radioactive wastes among
                 the states. In response to the acts, 44 states have entered into 10 compacts,
                 varying in membership from 2 to 8 states. Eight compacts intended to
                 develop new disposal facilities. The other two compacts share a disposal
                 facility located on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hanford nuclear site,
                 near Richland, Washington. To encourage states to form compacts and
                 develop new disposal facilities, congressionally approved compacts may



                 Page 2                         GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                   Executive Summary




                   prohibit the disposal of wastes generated outside of their respective
                   regions.

                   When the 1980 act was passed, there were three operating disposal
                   facilities for commercial waste. The Richland, Washington, and the
                   Barnwell, South Carolina, facilities continue to accept all types of
                   commercial low-level wastes except (1) “mixed wastes”—wastes that
                   contain both radioactive and chemically hazardous constituents—and
                   (2) the most concentrated class of low-level radioactive wastes. Under the
                   1985 amendments, DOE is responsible for disposing of the most
                   concentrated class of these wastes, but is not responsible for disposing of
                   commercially generated mixed wastes. The third facility, at Beatty,
                   Nevada, was permanently closed by order of that state’s governor at the
                   end of 1992. In the 1990s, Envirocare of Utah, Inc., developed a licensed
                   disposal facility in Utah. This facility disposes of wastes, including mixed
                   wastes, that are only slightly contaminated with radioactivity. Envirocare
                   developed the facility outside the framework of the compact act but with
                   the acceptance of the Northwest compact.


                   By the end of 1998, states, acting alone or in compacts, had collectively
Results in Brief   spent almost $600 million attempting to develop new disposal facilities.
                   However, none of these efforts have been successful. Only California
                   successfully licensed a facility, but the federal government did not transfer
                   to the state federal land on which the proposed site is located. In three
                   other states, candidate sites were rejected by state regulatory agencies.
                   North Carolina was considering a license application for a site when it
                   shut down the project for what it characterized as budgetary reasons. At
                   this time, the efforts by states to develop new disposal facilities have
                   essentially stopped.

                   Most commercial generators of low-level radioactive wastes have access
                   to waste disposal services. Waste generators in 11 states that make up the
                   Northwest and Rocky Mountain compacts use the Richland facility. Waste
                   generators in all states except North Carolina may use the Barnwell
                   facility to dispose of their normal operating wastes.1 The volume of these
                   wastes disposed of in 1998 was less than half the amount disposed of each
                   year in the late 1980s. Still, the Barnwell facility’s remaining disposal
                   capacity could be used up in 10 years. The Envirocare facility is available

                   1
                    When South Carolina withdrew from a compact in 1995, the withdrawal legislation prohibited the
                   disposal of wastes generated in North Carolina at the Barnwell facility. The stated reason for denying
                   access was that North Carolina was not making enough progress in developing a new disposal facility
                   for the compact.



                   Page 3                                   GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Executive Summary




to waste generators in all states except the Northwest compact region,
which requires its waste generators to use the Richland facility. As the
volume of wastes from routine operations has declined in the 1990s,
hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of wastes from cleaning up
commercial nuclear facilities have been disposed of at the Envirocare site.
Three types of low-level radioactive wastes do not have access to disposal
facilities and, therefore, must be stored. One waste type is mixed waste
that does not meet license criteria for disposal at the Envirocare facility. A
second waste type is waste generated in North Carolina that does not meet
the criteria for disposal at the Envirocare facility and which, according to
South Carolina’s law, is not allowed to be disposed of at the Barnwell
facility. The third waste type is the most concentrated class of low-level
radioactive waste. DOE is responsible for disposing of this type of waste
but does not anticipate being ready to do so for another 20 years.

The limited capacity of the Barnwell facility and the lack of the successful
development of new facilities by compacts or states raise the question of
whether to retain or abandon the compact approach. Retaining the present
system would allow compacts and individual states to continue to exercise
substantial control over the management and disposal of low-level
radioactive wastes but would also maintain a system that has not provided
an ample, assured supply of future disposal capacity. Abandoning the
compact approach in favor of opening the disposal market to private
industry could stimulate competition to meet the disposal needs of both
commercial waste generators and DOE. However, states and opponents of
new disposal sites could still oppose the private development of new
disposal facilities, and Washington State might close the Richland facility
rather than permit the facility to serve waste generators throughout the
nation. Finally, DOE has sufficient disposal capacity to meet the needs of
commercial waste generators; however, the most likely DOE facilities are
located in Nevada and Washington, which appear to have little incentive to
accept such an arrangement. Thus, any approach to providing disposal
capacity for commercial waste generators will have to address the
willingness—or unwillingness—of any state or states to serve as host for a
disposal facility.




Page 4                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                             Executive Summary




Principal Findings

Status of Compacts           None of the states or compacts have successfully developed a new
                             disposal facility. Although the specific reasons for the lack of success vary
                             among compacts and states, there are several common threads. One
                             thread is the controversial nature of nuclear waste disposal, which often
                             manifests itself in the form of skepticism about and/or opposition to
                             disposal facilities by members of the public and political leaders at all
                             levels of government. Also, in recent years the declining volume of wastes,
                             the high cost of developing new disposal facilities, and the continued
                             availability of disposal services to most waste generators caused waste
                             generators, compacts, and states to reassess their need for disposal
                             facilities or to defer the development of facilities. For example, Midwest
                             compact generators have reduced the volume of the wastes that the region
                             disposes of by about 83 percent. Presently, no state or compact is trying to
                             identify a site for a disposal facility. Furthermore, at least one
                             state—Connecticut—is now exploring the feasibility of developing a
                             facility for storing wastes for a period of 100 or more years before
                             permanently disposing of the wastes.


Current Disposal Situation   Commercial generators of low-level radioactive wastes throughout the
                             nation generally have access to one or more of the three existing disposal
                             facilities. Waste generators in the 11 states that make up the Northwest
                             and Rocky Mountain compacts use the Richland facility. Since 1965, more
                             than 13 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes have been
                             disposed of at this facility, which has an unused capacity of about
                             44 million cubic feet. Waste generators in all states (including the District
                             of Columbia and Puerto Rico) except North Carolina have access to the
                             Barnwell facility. The Barnwell facility has an estimated remaining
                             capacity of about 3.2 million cubic feet, or about 10 years of remaining life
                             at recent disposal rates. The Envirocare facility is available to waste
                             generators in all states except those in the eight-state Northwest compact,
                             which generally requires that its waste generators use the compact’s
                             Richland facility. To date, about 10 to 15 percent of the Envirocare
                             facility’s disposal capacity of about 247 million cubic feet has been used.

                             Since the 1985 amendments were enacted, the volume of wastes from
                             normal operations disposed of each year has declined. This is due to
                             reductions in the amount of wastes being generated and the use of




                             Page 5                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                  Executive Summary




                                  techniques, such as compaction and incineration, to further reduce the
                                  volume of the wastes that are actually generated. However, the decline has
                                  been partially offset by the emergence of bulk wastes produced from
                                  cleaning up nuclear facilities and sites.2 (See fig. 1.) Cleanup wastes, which
                                  are characterized by their relatively high volumes and very low levels of
                                  radioactivity, are disposed of at the Envirocare facility. In 1998, for
                                  example, more than five times the volume of wastes was disposed of at the
                                  Envirocare facility than at the Barnwell facility, but the Envirocare wastes
                                  contained less than 1 percent of the radioactivity contained in the
                                  Barnwell wastes.


Figure 1: Low-Level Radioactive
Wastes Disposed of From 1986      4,000,000
Through 1998




                                  3,000,000




                                  2,000,000




                                  1,000,000




                                           0


                                               1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
                                                 Year

                                                         Cleanup waste
                                                         Normal operating waste

                                                         Total




                                  2
                                   Although the volume of wastes has declined, the radioactivity contained in the wastes has remained
                                  relatively stable.



                                  Page 6                                  GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                             Executive Summary




                             Three types of low-level radioactive wastes do not have access to disposal
                             facilities. First, neither the Richland nor the Barnwell facilities accept
                             mixed wastes. The Envirocare facility accepts mixed waste within the
                             limits of the disposal criteria contained in its operating license. Thus,
                             mixed wastes that are not acceptable for disposal at the Envirocare facility
                             cannot be disposed of.

                             Second, when South Carolina enacted legislation in 1995 to withdraw from
                             a compact of states, the legislation prohibited wastes generated in North
                             Carolina from being disposed of in the Barnwell facility. Officials in South
                             Carolina acknowledge that this ban probably improperly restricts
                             interstate commerce; however, the ban has not been challenged in the
                             courts. As a result of the ban, waste generators in North Carolina must
                             store these wastes unless the wastes meet the license criteria for disposal
                             at the Envirocare facility. According to a survey by North Carolina, at the
                             beginning of 1998, waste generators in the state were storing over 57,000
                             cubic feet of wastes.

                             Third, the 1985 amendments made DOE responsible for disposing of the
                             most concentrated class of commercial low-level wastes. These wastes are
                             generally internal components of the reactor vessels at nuclear power
                             plants, filter materials, or sealed radioactive sources used for industrial
                             purposes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires these
                             wastes to be disposed of in a geologic repository unless it approves an
                             alternative disposal arrangement. According to DOE, a disposal facility for
                             these wastes may not be available for about 20 years. DOE has estimated
                             that over 7,000 cubic feet of these wastes are in storage.


Alternative Approaches for   The lack of new disposal facilities, the declining volume (but not
Waste Management             radioactivity) of commercial wastes, and the Barnwell facility’s limited
                             capacity raise questions about whether a new approach to waste
                             management is needed. States, compacts, and industry groups have
                             discussed alternatives to alleviate current conditions. Possible alternatives
                             include repealing the compact acts so that private industry can provide
                             waste generators throughout the country with disposal services or using
                             one or more of DOE’s disposal facilities to dispose of commercial wastes.
                             To be successful, any one of these approaches would have to address the
                             willingness—or unwillingness—of any state or states to serve as host for a
                             disposal facility. The compact approach, for example, emphasizes
                             state-level control over low-level radioactive wastes. Compacts not only
                             control the selection of facility sites, they also regulate the import and/or



                             Page 7                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Executive Summary




export of wastes for treatment, storage, or disposal. Also, compacts have
the flexibility to contract with other compacts and to realign themselves
(with congressional approval) into new compacts as circumstances may
warrant. The Northwest compact, for example, contracted with the Rocky
Mountain compact to dispose of its wastes at the Richland, Washington,
facility.

Because no state or compact has developed a new disposal facility, some
parties argue for discarding the compact approach in favor of encouraging
private industry to develop and operate disposal facilities in response to
market conditions. They point out that the reduced volume of commercial
wastes will support only a few disposal facilities. Also, DOE expects to use
commercial facilities to dispose of 20 million to 40 million cubic feet of its
low-level radioactive wastes over the next 70 years. Therefore, proponents
argue, private industry—unencumbered by compact-imposed
restrictions—could meet the needs of both the commercial sector and DOE.
In the short run, however, this approach could lead to the early closure of
the Richland and, perhaps, the Barnwell facilities. Washington State
supports the compact approach and has said that it probably would close
the Richland facility if it lost the right to exclude out-of-region wastes
provided by the legislation establishing the compact. At a minimum, the
state might decline to renew the facility operator’s lease when it expires in
2005. South Carolina, which, according to its governor, wants to stop
taking radioactive wastes from around the country, could take similar
action regarding the Barnwell facility. Moreover, some believe that other
states could erect administrative barriers to the development of new
disposal facilities.

Another alternative would be to make DOE responsible for disposing of
commercial low-level radioactive wastes at one or more of its existing
disposal facilities. DOE’s primary disposal facilities at its Hanford and
Nevada sites have larger available capacities than DOE expects to use in
cleaning up its nuclear facilities. Moreover, the capacity for disposing of
mixed wastes at both of these locations could be expanded. Both of these
sites, however, are located in states whose objections to bearing too large
a disposal burden led to the compact acts. These states have also opposed
the importation of wastes from other DOE facilities, and the states appear
to have little inclination or incentive to accept commercial wastes at these
sites. Nevada, for example, has firmly opposed the federal program to
develop a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain for disposing of highly
radioactive wastes. The state has opposed this program despite
authorization to enter into an agreement with DOE that could provide the



Page 8                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                       Executive Summary




                       state with hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits payments over
                       several decades.


                       GAO  provided the Department of Energy (which uses commercial disposal
Agency Comments        facilities and could, as an alternative to the compact approach, dispose of
and GAO’s Evaluation   commercial waste at its facilities), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
                       and each of the 10 compacts with a draft of this report for review and
                       comment. The Department provided a number of comments primarily
                       directed at clarifying the definition of long-term storage and provided
                       other clarifying or technical comments. GAO incorporated these clarifying
                       comments as appropriate. (See app. V.) The Commission also provided
                       clarifying comments, which have been incorporated as appropriate. (See
                       app. IV.) The Northeast, Northwest, and Rocky Mountain compacts stated
                       that GAO’s report appears accurate and fairly portrays the current situation.
                       (See app. III.) These compacts also provided comments to supplement,
                       clarify, and correct certain points in the text, which GAO incorporated as
                       appropriate. The Southwestern compact noted that GAO’s report is factual
                       and commented that repeal of the compact acts would return the nation to
                       the inequitable conditions that led to passage of the 1980 act. The
                       Appalachian, Southeast, and Texas compacts provided oral comments to
                       supplement, clarify, and correct certain points in the text, which GAO
                       incorporated as appropriate. The Central Interstate, Central Midwest, and
                       Midwest Interstate compacts did not provide comments.




                       Page 9                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                       2


Chapter 1                                                                                              14
                         Low-Level Waste Policy Act and Amendments                                     17
Introduction             Disposal Facilities Operating Since the 1985 Compact Act                      19
                         Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                            21
                         Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                            24

Chapter 2                                                                                              26
                         Compacts and States Have Not Developed New Disposal                           26
Status of Compacts’        Facilities
and States’ Efforts to   Efforts Suspended for Several Reasons                                         29
                         Some States Have Expressed Interest in Long-Term Storage of                   32
Develop New                Wastes
Disposal Capacity
Chapter 3                                                                                              35
                         The Changing Low-Level Radioactive Waste Situation                            35
Most Waste               Almost All Waste Generators Currently Have Access to One or                   40
Generators Currently       More Disposal Facilities
                         Some Wastes Do Not Have Access to Disposal Facilities                         46
Have Access to
Disposal Capacity
Chapter 4                                                                                              50
                         Continued Access to the Barnwell Facility Is Not Assured                      50
Future Access            Companies’ Efforts to Develop New Disposal Facilities Have Not                52
Concerns Raise             Been Successful
                         Alternative Approaches to Managing Low-Level Radioactive                      55
Questions About the        Wastes
Appropriate Approach
for Managing Wastes
Appendixes               Appendix I: State Compacts’ and Unaffiliated States’ Experiences              62
                           Under the Compact Acts
                         Appendix II: Current Facilities for Disposing of Low-Level                    78
                           Radioactive Wastes
                         Appendix III: Comments From Compacts of States                                89
                         Appendix IV: Comments From the Nuclear Regulatory                             98
                           Commission
                         Appendix V: Comments From the Department of Energy                           100




                         Page 10                      GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                       Contents




                       Appendix VI: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                          101


Related GAO Products                                                                                104


Tables                 Table 1.1: Cumulative Volume and Radioactivity of Low-Level                   15
                         Radioactive Wastes Disposed of by Types of Generators From
                         1986 Through 1998
                       Table 2.1: Status of Compacts and Unaffiliated States                         27
                       Table 3.1: Volume and Radioactivity of Low-Level Wastes                       41
                         Disposed of in 1998 by Compact, State, and Disposal Site
                       Table II.1: Volume of Wastes Disposed of at Barnwell by Class of              79
                         Wastes From 1986 Through 1998
                       Table II.2: Volume of Wastes Disposed of at Richland by Class of              84
                         Wastes From 1986 Through 1998
                       Table II.3: Volume and Curies of Wastes Disposed of at the                    86
                         Envirocare Facility

Figures                Figure 1: Low-level Radioactive Wastes Disposed of From 1986                   6
                         Through 1998
                       Figure 1.1: States’ Memberships in Compacts                                   21
                       Figure 3.1: Volume of Low-Level Wastes Disposed of From 1986                  36
                         Through 1998
                       Figure 3.2: Radioactivity in Low-Level Wastes Disposed of From                37
                         1986 Through 1998
                       Figure 3.3: Estimates of Future Increase in Wastes From                       39
                         Decommissioning
                       Figure II.1: A Disposal Trench at the Barnwell Facility                       78
                       Figure II.2: Overview of the Richland Disposal Facility Showing               80
                         Various Available Trenches
                       Figure II.3: Putting the Finishing Touches on Disposed Wastes at              82
                         the Richland Facility
                       Figure II.4: Overview of the Envirocare of Utah Waste Disposal                85
                         Facility
                       Figure II.5: Unloading Bulk Waste Materials from a Rail Car at the            88
                         Envirocare Disposal Facility




                       Page 11                      GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Contents




Abbreviations

AEC        Atomic Energy Commission
DOE        Department of Energy
EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
GAO        General Accounting Office
NARM       naturally occurring and accelerator produced radioactive
                material
NRC        Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Page 12                      GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Page 13   GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 1

Introduction


                   Each year, over 100 utility-owned nuclear-powered electrical generating
                   plants and thousands of commercial enterprises, such as pharmaceutical
                   manufacturers, hospitals, universities, and industrial firms, generate
                   various types of radioactive wastes. Some types of radioactive wastes,
                   such as the used (spent) fuel from nuclear power plants, are classified as
                   high-level wastes. Low-level radioactive wastes include such things as
                   metal components, filters, rags, paper, liquid, glass, and protective
                   clothing, as well as hardware, equipment, and resins exposed to
                   radioactivity or contaminated with radioactive material at nuclear power
                   plants.1

                   Since 1986, the Department of Energy (DOE) has collected information on
                   the disposal of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes. As
                   shown in table 1.1, utilities that operate nuclear power plants dispose of
                   the most wastes in terms of both volume and curies of radioactivity.2 In
                   addition to utilities, DOE collects and summarizes waste disposal
                   information by other types of waste generators:

               •   Academic—including university hospitals and university medical and
                   nonmedical research facilities.
               •   Government, consisting of state and federal agencies, such as the Army,
                   that are licensed and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
                   (NRC).3
               •   Industry—including private research and development companies and
                   manufacturers; nondestructive testing, mining, and fuel fabrication
                   facilities; and radiopharmaceutical manufacturers.
               •   Medical—including hospitals and clinics, research facilities, and private
                   medical offices.




                   1
                    Low-level radioactive wastes also do not include waste products from processing uranium ore.
                   2
                    A curie is a measure of the total radioactivity of a material.
                   3
                    NRC licenses and regulates the government’s “commercial” low-level radioactive wastes, which
                   include all federally generated low-level radioactive wastes except those from DOE and the Navy’s
                   nuclear reactor propulsion program.



                   Page 14                                    GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                         Chapter 1
                                         Introduction




Table 1.1: Cumulative Volume and
Radioactivity of Low-Level Radioactive   Cubic feet and curies of radioactivity in thousands
Wastes Disposed of by Types of                                                Volume                                Radioactivity
Generators From 1986 Through 1998
                                         Generator type               Cubic feet             Percent               Curies             Percent
                                         Academic                             420                    3                    9                      0
                                         Government                         1,210                    8                 329                       5
                                         Industry                           5,104                   36                 670                      10
                                         Medical                              215                    1                    1                      0
                                         Utility                            7,406                   52               5,439                      84
                                         Total                            14,356                  100                6,448                  100
                                         Note: Numbers may not add because of rounding.
                                         a
                                          The table does not include over 10 million cubic feet of commercially generated low-level
                                         radioactive wastes disposed of from 1992 through 1998 primarily at the Envirocare facility in Utah.
                                         These wastes, consisting of bulk materials resulting from cleaning up retired nuclear sites, are
                                         only slightly contaminated with radioactivity. Information on the types of generators of these
                                         wastes was not recorded.



                                         The generation of significant amounts of nuclear wastes began during
                                         World War II as a result of federal efforts to develop atomic weapons.
                                         Beginning with the enactment of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the
                                         federal government permitted commercial entities to possess, own, and
                                         use radioactive materials. Until the 1960s, radioactive wastes produced by
                                         commercial organizations were disposed of by the Atomic Energy
                                         Commission (AEC), a predecessor of DOE, at AEC’s nuclear facilities. A 1959
                                         amendment to the Atomic Energy Act authorized qualified states to
                                         assume regulatory oversight for the possession, use, and disposal of many
                                         kinds of radioactive materials, including the disposal of commercially
                                         generated low-level wastes. A year later, AEC announced that it would
                                         phase out the use of its facilities for disposing of commercial low-level
                                         wastes. Instead, AEC or “agreement states” that had assumed regulatory
                                         authority from AEC would license privately operated disposal facilities for
                                         these wastes.4

                                         From 1962 through 1971, six commercial disposal facilities located in
                                         Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, and Washington
                                         state were licensed to operate. Each of these facilities was initially
                                         designed to use a relatively simple approach called “shallow land burial,”
                                         in which wastes are placed into excavated trenches. The objective of
                                         shallow land burial is to isolate radionuclides in the wastes from surface
                                         water and slow-moving groundwater long enough to allow the wastes to


                                         4
                                          The privately owned disposal facilities would, however, be located on federal- or state-owned land.



                                         Page 15                                  GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 1
Introduction




undergo radioactive decay to a level approaching that of the earth’s
natural background. By March 1979, however, the disposal facilities in
Illinois, Kentucky, and New York were permanently closed for a variety of
reasons, including leakage at the sites. Only the sites in Nevada, South
Carolina, and Washington remained open to serve commercial generators
of low-level radioactive wastes.

In July 1979, the Governor of Nevada ordered the disposal facility for
commercially generated low-level radioactive waste in that state, located
near the town of Beatty, shut down temporarily because a number of
shipments of wastes to the facility were found to have leaking containers.
In October 1979, the Governor of Washington ordered that state’s disposal
facility, which is located about 20 miles from the city of Richland on DOE’s
Hanford site, to shut down after similar deficiencies were found in waste
shipments bound for the facility. Also in 1979, the Governor of South
Carolina said that the Barnwell disposal facility in that state was receiving
up to 90 percent of all commercially generated low-level radioactive
wastes and that decontamination of the disabled Three Mile Island nuclear
power plant would generate wastes amounting to almost 50 percent of the
total volume that the state had received in 1978. For this reason, the
governor said that South Carolina would not accept wastes from the
disabled plant.

Concerned about the potential loss of capacity for the disposal of
commercially generated low-level wastes, congressional committees
considered legislation in 1979 that would make the federal government
responsible for the disposal of these wastes. The Governors of Nevada,
South Carolina, and Washington opposed this approach, however, because
they wanted states to have an opportunity to examine alternatives to
federal disposal. By the end of that year, Washington and Nevada had
allowed their disposal facilities to reopen, and the Congress had deferred
consideration of legislation to the next year. Subsequently, a task force
convened by the National Governors’ Association recommended that the
states be responsible for the development, as well as the regulation, of
disposal facilities for commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes.
Other state government organizations supported this approach.

Until concerns had emerged about the disposal capacity for commercially
generated low-level wastes, DOE and its predecessor agencies had routinely
disposed of low-level radioactive wastes (including “mixed” wastes,
which are low-level radioactive wastes containing chemically hazardous
constituents) at the commercial disposal facilities. However, to ensure



Page 16                       GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                  Chapter 1
                  Introduction




                  uninterrupted disposal capabilities for its needs, in 1979, DOE adopted a
                  new policy of disposing of its low-level wastes, including mixed wastes, at
                  its own sites and using commercial facilities only on a case-by-case basis.


                  Late in 1980, the Congress enacted the Low-Level Radioactive Waste
Low-Level Waste   Policy Act of 1980. The act established as federal policy that commercial
Policy Act and    low-level radioactive wastes can be most safely and effectively managed
Amendments        by states on a regional basis. The Congress encouraged states to form
                  regional compacts to meet their collective disposal needs, minimize the
                  number of new disposal sites, and more equitably distribute the
                  responsibility for the management of low-level radioactive wastes among
                  the states. Congressional consent was required for a compact to become
                  effective. As an inducement to states to form compacts and develop
                  disposal facilities, the act stated that, beginning January 1, 1986, compacts
                  could, under certain conditions, restrict the use of their disposal facilities
                  to low-level radioactive wastes generated within their respective regions.

                  By the end of 1983, nearly 40 states had formed seven compacts but none
                  of the compacts had been granted congressional consent. Also, it had
                  become clear that no new disposal facilities would be ready for at least
                  another 5 years. Therefore, the Congress passed and, on January 15, 1986,
                  the President signed into law, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy
                  Amendments Act of 1985. At the same time, the Congress granted consent
                  to the seven regional compacts. The 1995 act represented a compromise.
                  Waste generators in states that were relying on the Barnwell, Beatty, and
                  Richland disposal facilities got a 7-year extension (until the end of 1992) of
                  the period during which they could ship wastes to those facilities. On the
                  other hand, the three states hosting the existing disposal
                  facilities—Nevada, South Carolina, and Washington—received additional
                  assurances that other states or compacts would develop their own
                  disposal facilities.

                  One key provision of the compact acts was that congressionally approved
                  compacts could ban the disposal of commercial low-level wastes
                  generated outside the compact’s region. A second, stronger provision was
                  a requirement that, if a state’s disposal facility was not operational by
                  January 1, 1996, the state and other states in a compact must begin taking
                  title to, and possession of, their generators’ wastes at the request of the
                  generators. In 1992, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the “take
                  title” provision of the compact act was unconstitutional on the grounds
                  that the Congress could not compel the states to regulate the waste in a



                  Page 17                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
    Chapter 1
    Introduction




    particular way.5 The Court held that the take-title provision could be
    considered separately from the remainder of the act, which is still valid.

    In addition, the 1985 compact act clarified the responsibility for disposing
    of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes between the states
    and compacts and DOE. Specifically, the Congress made states and
    compacts responsible for providing disposal facilities for all commercially
    generated low-level radioactive wastes except for the most hazardous
    class of wastes, as defined by NRC in its December 1982 regulations on the
    disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. The 1985 act made the federal
    government—in effect, DOE—responsible for disposing of the most
    hazardous class of wastes.

    By 1983, NRC had issued regulations governing the selection of sites for,
    and the construction, operation, decommissioning, and long-term care of,
    new disposal facilities for low-level radioactive wastes. In these
    regulations, NRC divided commercially generated low-level radioactive
    wastes into the following four categories:

•   Class A wastes have the lowest concentrations of specific radionuclides
    and can be disposed of with the least stringent requirements governing the
    waste’s form and disposal packaging. This class of wastes must be
    segregated from other wastes at the disposal site unless the wastes meet
    specified stability requirements intended to prevent structural degradation
    of the disposal facility.
•   Class B wastes contain higher concentrations of the shorter-lived
    radionuclides. To ensure the stability of these wastes after disposal, these
    types of wastes must maintain their physical dimensions and form, and be
    packaged more stringently than class A wastes.
•   Class C wastes are wastes that must meet the form and stability
    requirements applicable to class B wastes and also measures taken at the
    disposal facility to protect against inadvertent human intrusion. Class C
    wastes must be protected by barriers to inadvertent human intrusion that
    would be expected to perform effectively for at least 500 years.
•   Greater-than-class-C wastes must be disposed of in a geologic repository
    unless NRC approves a specific proposal to dispose of such wastes in a
    disposal facility licensed under NRC’s regulations for disposing of low-level
    radioactive wastes.




    5
     New York v. United States, 488 U.S. 1041 (1992).



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                      Introduction




                      The 1985 compact act permitted the states of Nevada, South Carolina, and
Disposal Facilities   Washington to restrict access to these facilities to waste generators within
Operating Since the   their respective compact states, beginning on January 1, 1993. Shortly
1985 Compact Act      before that date, the Governor of Nevada issued an executive order
                      prohibiting the storage and/or disposal of additional low-level radioactive
                      wastes on state-owned land (such as the Beatty facility) after
                      December 31, 1992.

                      South Carolina, which was a member of the eight-state Southeast compact,
                      agreed to permit waste generators located within and outside of that
                      compact to continue shipping low-level radioactive wastes to the Barnwell
                      disposal facility in that state until June 30, 1994. From then until mid-1995,
                      access to the Barnwell facility was restricted to waste generators within
                      the Southeast compact region. During this 1-year period, waste generators
                      in 33 states did not have access to facilities for disposing of their low-level
                      radioactive wastes.6 In July 1995, however, South Carolina withdrew from
                      the Southeast compact and reopened access to the Barnwell facility to
                      waste generators in all states except North Carolina. South Carolina
                      prohibited the disposal of low-level wastes generated in North Carolina
                      because of what it regarded as the latter state’s lack of satisfactory
                      progress in developing a new disposal facility for the Southeast compact.

                      Washington continued to permit the Richland disposal facility to operate.
                      The state, however, restricted the use of the facility to waste generators
                      within the eight member states of the Northwest compact (of which
                      Washington was a member) and, by contract, within the three states that
                      comprised the Rocky Mountain compact.

                      In the early 1990s, a new facility for disposing of certain types of low-level
                      radioactive wastes and mixed low-level wastes was licensed and
                      developed in Utah. This facility, which is located about 80 miles west of
                      Salt Lake City, is owned and operated by Envirocare of Utah. The facility
                      treats and disposes of wastes that are lightly contaminated with
                      radioactivity. Originally, DOE used what became the Envirocare site to
                      dispose of waste products from the cleanup of a former uranium
                      ore-processing facility at Salt Lake City. Then, in 1988, Envirocare
                      obtained a state license authorizing the company to use the site to dispose
                      of naturally occurring radioactive materials. Subsequently, in March 1991,
                      Envirocare applied for and received a state license to dispose of class A
                      low-level radioactive wastes limited to the specific radionuclides and

                      6
                       Except slightly contaminated bulk wastes eligible for disposal at the new Envirocare disposal facility
                      in Utah.



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Introduction




maximum concentrations of radioactivity stated in the license. In the
allowable concentrations of radionuclides, the low-level radioactive
wastes authorized for disposal at the Envirocare facility were only mildly
contaminated compared to the wastes typically disposed of at the
Barnwell and Richland facilities. Although Utah is a member of a
congressionally approved compact, the Envirocare facility was not
developed in response to the 1980 and 1985 compact acts and is not a
regional disposal facility serving only waste generators within a compact
region. Instead, the facility is permitted by the host compact to accept
low-level radioactive wastes for disposal from waste generators located
outside the host compact’s region. The license for the Envirocare facility
has been amended to authorize the disposal of most class A low-level
radioactive wastes. Also, the Northwest compact has authorized
Envirocare to accept operational wastes as well as cleanup wastes.

Currently, the Barnwell, Richland, and Envirocare disposal facilities
collectively serve 10 compacts made up of 44 states as well as the 8 states
(the compact acts define the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as
states) that are not affiliated with a compact. (See fig. 1.1 for the alignment
of states into compacts.)




Page 20                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                          Chapter 1
                                          Introduction




Figure 1.1: States’ Memberships in Compacts




                                                                                                         sc




                                          Note: Shaded states are not affiliated with a compact.

                                          Source: Low-Level Waste Forum.



                                          Concerned that no new facilities for disposing of low-level radioactive
Objectives, Scope,                        wastes have opened under the auspices of the Low-Level Radioactive
and Methodology                           Waste Policy Act of 1980, as amended, the Chairman, Senate Committee
                                          on Energy and Natural Resources requested that we review

                                      •   the status of states’ and compacts’ efforts to establish new disposal
                                          facilities;
                                      •   the status of the management and disposal of commercially generated
                                          low-level radioactive wastes, including the continued availability of the
                                          three existing disposal facilities, the volume of wastes disposed of at these




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    Introduction




    facilities, and the wastes, if any, that are not authorized for disposal at the
    existing facilities; and
•   alternative approaches to managing and disposing of commercially
    generated low-level radioactive wastes.

    To determine the status of states’ and compacts’ efforts to establish new
    disposal facilities, we discussed states’ and compacts’ progress in
    developing disposal facilities with officials of the Appalachian, Central,
    Central Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Texas compacts.
    We also had similar discussions with officials of the designated host states
    of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, North
    Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington. We
    also attended the fall 1998 and spring 1999 meetings of the Low-Level
    Radioactive Waste Forum, which is an association of representatives,
    appointed by governors and compact commissions, of each host state and
    compact. The Forum was established to facilitate states’ and compacts’
    implementation of the 1980 and 1985 compact acts. In addition, we
    discussed the status of compacts’ and states’ efforts to develop new
    disposal facilities with officials of NRC; DOE’s national low-level waste
    program; the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is the lobbying organization
    for the nuclear industry; and the Nuclear Information and Resources
    Service, which is an organization based in Washington, D.C., that is
    opposed to nuclear power.

    To determine the status of the management and disposal of all low-level
    radioactive wastes, including the continued availability of existing disposal
    facilities, we obtained information and related documentation from many
    of the compacts and states listed above. In addition, we visited the
    Barnwell, Envirocare, and Richland disposal facilities and discussed this
    issue with officials responsible for operating these facilities
    (Chem-Nuclear Systems, LLC; Envirocare of Utah; and US Ecology,
    respectively). We also discussed this issue with the Vice President for
    Nuclear Power of the Commonwealth Edison Company. We did not
    evaluate the quality of either the management of wastes prior to their
    disposal or of the operation of disposal facilities.

    To determine the volume of wastes disposed of, we met with officials in
    DOE’s National Low-Level Radioactive Waste Program within its Idaho
    National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Using manifests for
    tracking and accounting for the transportation and disposal of low-level
    radioactive wastes, the national program office has, since 1986, routinely
    collected information on the disposal of commercially generated low-level



    Page 22                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 1
Introduction




radioactive wastes in a “Manifest Information Management System.” With
the assistance of these officials, we extracted data from this system to
analyze the volume and radioactivity of low-level radioactive wastes
disposed of from 1986 through 1998. We also incorporated into our
analyses disposal information recorded by Envirocare of Utah and
reported to the Northwest Interstate compact from 1992 through 1997,
when Envirocare’s disposal records were not yet included within DOE’s
manifest information system. Beginning in January 1998, Envirocare’s
records were incorporated into DOE’s information system. On a monthly
basis, operators of the disposal facilities record information from shipping
manifests that accompany wastes as they arrive at the disposal sites and
then enter the information into DOE’s manifest system. While we did not
independently verify the reliability of the disposal data, facility operators
sometimes spot-check incoming waste shipments to assure themselves
that the volumes and curie information recorded on the manifests are
accurate and that discrepancies are rare.

DOE’s information management system collects information only on
commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes that are disposed of
at the three existing facilities. The system does not collect information on
the amounts of wastes actually generated or the amounts of wastes that
individual waste generators may be storing. Our discussions with officials
of DOE, NRC, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum, compacts and states,
and operators of disposal facilities did not reveal the existence of any
central collection system for information on stored low-level radioactive
wastes. Therefore, we did not analyze the volume of wastes generated and
stored, rather than disposed of, because to do so would have required that
we identify and contact, if not visit, thousands of licensees to develop an
accurate indication of the amounts and types of wastes generated and
stored. During the course of our review, however, we did collect from a
few states the results of their surveys of waste generators, including the
amounts of wastes being stored by the generators.

To determine what wastes or waste generators, if any, are not authorized
for disposal at the existing facilities, we discussed this issue with the
parties mentioned above.

To identify and analyze alternative approaches to managing and disposing
of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes, we discussed this
issue with many of the parties listed above. In addition, we attended a
“national summit meeting” on low-level radioactive wastes, hosted by the




Page 23                       GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                     Chapter 1
                     Introduction




                     National Conference of State Legislatures in April 1999, at which this issue
                     was discussed.

                     Our work was performed from September 1998 through August 1999 in
                     accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.


                     We provided DOE (which uses commercial disposal facilities and could, as
Agency Comments      an alternative to the compact approach, dispose of commercial waste at its
and Our Evaluation   facilities), NRC, and each of the 10 compacts with a draft of this report for
                     review and comment. DOE provided a number of comments primarily
                     directed at clarifying the definition of long-term storage and provided
                     other clarifying or technical comments. We incorporated these clarifying
                     comments as appropriate. (See appendix V.) NRC also provided clarifying
                     comments which have been incorporated as appropriate. (See appendix
                     IV.) The Northeast, Northwest, and Rocky Mountain compacts provided
                     letters commenting on our report, which appear in appendix III. The
                     Southwestern compact provided comments in the form of an electronic
                     message from the compact’s executive director. The Appalachian,
                     Southeast, and Texas compacts provided oral comments. The Central
                     Interstate, Central Midwest, and Midwest Interstate compacts did not
                     provide comments.

                     The Northeast compact stated that, overall, our report is a factual and
                     complete presentation of the subject and correctly identifies the primary
                     reasons—particularly the controversial nature of low-level waste
                     disposal—for the current situation. The compact also stated that our
                     report correctly notes that discarding the compact system could result in
                     the loss of the Richland disposal facility. The compact also provided
                     several comments to supplement the information in our report and clarify
                     certain points in the text, which we incorporated as appropriate.

                     The Northwest and Rocky Mountain compacts stated that our report
                     appears accurate and fairly portrays the current situation. Also, both
                     compacts provided several comments to supplement the information in
                     our report and clarify certain points in the text, which we incorporated as
                     appropriate.

                     The Southwestern compact commented that the report is factual. The
                     compact added that if the compact acts were to be repealed, then the
                     nation would return to essentially the same conditions of inequity in the




                     Page 24                       GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 1
Introduction




disposal of low-level radioactive wastes that led to passing the compact
acts 20 years ago.




Page 25                      GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 2

Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
Develop New Disposal Capacity

                      No compact or state has successfully developed a new disposal facility for
                      low-level radioactive wastes under the auspices of the 1980 and 1985
                      compact acts. One state—California—successfully licensed a facility, but
                      the Department of the Interior has not transferred the proposed site to the
                      state. Other states have applied for licenses from their state regulatory
                      agencies, but their applications were ultimately denied. By the end of 1998,
                      such efforts to site new disposal facilities cost compacts and states almost
                      $600 million. Yet, states’ initiatives to develop new disposal facilities have
                      now come to a standstill.

                      Public and political opposition continues to underlie the lack of progress.
                      For example, states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, that attempted
                      to find communities willing to volunteer sites for disposal facilities were
                      unsuccessful. Also, changes in the conditions affecting the disposal of
                      low-level radioactive wastes have contributed to the current lack of efforts
                      to develop new disposal facilities. For example, waste generators have
                      reduced the volume of their normal operating wastes and almost all waste
                      generators currently have access to disposal facilities. Moreover, states’
                      efforts to develop new disposal facilities have been costly. As a result, at
                      least one state that had been attempting to develop a disposal facility is
                      now exploring the feasibility of developing a facility for safely storing
                      low-level radioactive wastes for 100 to 300 years as an alternative to
                      near-term disposal. (Appendix I provides details of the status of efforts of
                      the 10 compacts and 8 unaffiliated states.)


                      We found that states, acting alone or within compacts, have collectively
Compacts and States   spent about $600 million over the last 18 years attempting to locate and
Have Not Developed    develop about 10 sites for disposing of commercially generated low-level
New Disposal          radioactive wastes. None have been successful, and no state is now
                      actively attempting to develop a disposal facility. In effect, the system of
Facilities            new regional disposal facilities envisioned when the 1980 and 1985
                      compact acts were enacted has not occurred. Table 2.1 summarizes the
                      current status of state and compact projects to establish new disposal
                      facilities.




                      Page 26                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                    Chapter 2
                                    Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
                                    Develop New Disposal Capacity




Table 2.1: Status of Compacts and
Unaffiliated States                 Dollars in millions
                                    State compacts (Host state      Status of disposal siting       Development
                                    and state members)              efforts                         costs
                                    Appalachian compact             Halted.                         $37.0
                                    (Pennsylvania, Delaware,
                                    Maryland, West Virginia)
                                    Central compact (Nebraska, License application denied           95.6
                                    Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, by Nebraska. Nebraska to
                                    Oklahoma)                    withdraw from compact.
                                    Central Midwest compact         Halted.                         95.8
                                    (Illinois, Kentucky)
                                    Midwest compact (No host        Halted.                         Not available
                                    state, Indiana, Iowa,
                                    Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio,
                                    Wisconsin)
                                    Northeast compact (Dual         Connecticut: halted         15.2
                                    hosts: Connecticut, New         disposal facility siting,
                                    Jersey)                         considering storage for 100
                                                                    years or longer.
                                                                    New Jersey: halted siting   9.7
                                                                    effort.
                                    Northwest compact            Uses existing Richland             Not applicable
                                    (Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, disposal facility located on
                                    Idaho, Montana, Oregon,      DOE’s Hanford site.
                                    Utah, Wyoming)
                                    Rocky Mountain compact (No Contracted with Northwest            Not applicable
                                    host state, Colorado,      compact to use the
                                    Nevada, New Mexico)        Richland facility.
                                    Southeast compact (North        North Carolina halted        112.0
                                    Carolina, Alabama, Florida,     licensing process for
                                    Georgia, Mississippi,           disposal facility, shut down
                                    Tennessee, Virginia             its siting agency, and, on
                                                                    July 26, 1999, enacted
                                                                    legislation withdrawing from
                                                                    the compact.
                                    Southwestern compact            Halted.                         92.6
                                    (California, Arizona, North
                                    Dakota, South Dakota)
                                    Texas compact (Texas,           Halted, initial license         52.0
                                    Maine, Vermont)                 application for original site
                                                                    denied by state’s licensing
                                                                    authority.
                                    Unaffiliated states
                                    District of Columbia            No plans to site a facility.    Not applicable
                                    Massachusetts                   Halted.                         Not available
                                    Michigan                        No efforts under way.           12.6
                                    New Hampshire                   No plans to site a facility.    Not applicable
                                                                                                                     (continued)



                                    Page 27                             GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Chapter 2
Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
Develop New Disposal Capacity




Dollars in millions
State compacts (Host state      Status of disposal siting      Development
and state members)              efforts                        costs
New York                        Halted.                        62.7
Puerto Rico                     No plans to site a facility.   Not applicable
Rhode Island                    No plans to site a facility.   Not applicable
South Carolina                  Host state for Barnwell        Not applicable
                                facility.
Totals                                                         $585.2

Source: GAO, from various agency documents.



No state is actively attempting to develop a disposal facility. After years of
effort and multi-million-dollar expenditures, all of the states that had
started programs to identify candidate sites for facilities and to license and
develop these sites have essentially stopped their programs. The
Southwestern compact has come the closest to opening a disposal facility.
The host state for the compact—California—licensed a facility. Efforts to
find a site, investigate its suitability, and license the facility cost about
$93 million. However, the site chosen is on federal land, and the
Department of the Interior has not agreed to transfer the land to the state.
Thus, California’s activities are on hold indefinitely. In the early years of
the legislation that created the compact, Illinois identified a candidate site,
but the site was eventually rejected. Subsequently, that state decided,
largely on the basis of reduced quantities of low-level radioactive wastes,
to postpone the development of a disposal facility until around 2010. In
Nebraska and Texas, host states for the Central compact and the Texas
compact, respectively, state agencies denied license applications for
disposal facilities. Efforts to site a facility in Nebraska cost $95.6 million
and in Texas, $52 million. The Southeast compact spent the most money
trying to site a disposal facility in North Carolina. It spent $112 million
before efforts were shut down.

Of the unaffiliated states, New York spent about $62.7 million trying to site
a facility before suspending its program. Michigan, which was once the
state designated by the Midwest compact to develop a regional disposal
facility, was expelled from the compact because members decided that
Michigan had unreasonable criteria that essentially precluded the state
from finding a suitable site. Massachusetts established a program to
develop its own disposal facility, but the program did not progress to the
point of identifying candidate sites. The other unaffiliated states have no
plans to site a disposal facility.



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                        Chapter 2
                        Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
                        Develop New Disposal Capacity




                        Several factors have combined to affect the development of new low-level
Efforts Suspended for   radioactive waste disposal facilities around the country. Initially, public
Several Reasons         and political resistance delayed the development of new facilities. In
                        recent years, several states and compacts have suspended their siting
                        efforts because of the (1) availability of disposal capacity both in and out
                        of their compact regions, (2) declining volumes of wastes, and (3) rising
                        costs of developing disposal facilities.


Public and Political    The underlying and recurring reason that no disposal facilities have been
Opposition              developed under the 1980 and 1985 acts is public and political opposition.
                        We discussed this concern in our 1995 report on the status of compacts’
                        and states’ efforts to develop new disposal capacity.1 In that report, we
                        noted that in 1993, NRC’s staff had reviewed the experiences of 13 states
                        under the compact acts. Although NRC’s staff had identified seven factors
                        that, in their judgment, had affected states’ progress, one of the
                        factors—public and political concern over the development of new
                        disposal facilities—predominated. More recently, a policy associate of the
                        National Conference of State Legislatures, writing in that organization’s
                        legislative report, characterized the political and public concern factor as
                        “[a] lack of financial and political will.”2 The author reasoned that strong
                        political support at the state level must be garnered from the beginning, so
                        that the siting process is not susceptible to being derailed in the later
                        stages.

                        The experience in California is an example showing how political
                        commitment at one level can move the process of developing a disposal
                        facility forward and how the lack of commitment at another level can
                        frustrate the goals of the 1980 and 1985 compact acts. California
                        successfully completed its administrative and judicial procedures for
                        licensing the construction and operation of a disposal facility for low-level
                        radioactive wastes to be located on land in Ward Valley, California, that it
                        had requested, in July 1992, to purchase from the federal government. The
                        Department of the Interior, however, has not transferred the proposed site
                        to the state so that the facility can be built. Although Interior officials had
                        concluded, on the basis of a study by the National Academy of Sciences,
                        that the proposed facility could be operated safely, in 1997, Interior called
                        for additional testing of the safety and suitability of the site. Then, in


                        1
                         Radioactive Waste: Status of Commercial Low-Level Waste Facilities (GAO/RCED-95-67, May 5, 1995).
                        2
                         “The Challenge of Siting Low-Level Radioactive Waste Facilities,” National Conference of State
                        Legislatures, State Legislative Report (Vol. 24, No. 3).



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                     Chapter 2
                     Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
                     Develop New Disposal Capacity




                     March 1999, Interior proposed that the Department and the state explore
                     alternatives to the proposed transfer of the land.

                     Recent voluntary siting efforts by states also demonstrate the effect of
                     public and political opposition. For example, in March 1996, Pennsylvania
                     began a voluntary siting process for the Appalachian compact. The
                     volunteer process empowered municipalities in Pennsylvania to make
                     their own choices about hosting a facility. From March 1996 through
                     April 1998, staff of the contractor that the state selected traveled more
                     than 90,000 miles statewide and participated in more than 340 outreach
                     meetings. Yet, no municipality expressed an interest in hosting a low-level
                     waste disposal facility. On December 31, 1998, the state’s Department of
                     Environmental Protection suspended the siting project after discussing the
                     issue with the Department’s low-level waste advisory committee and the
                     Appalachian compact. Similarly, both Connecticut and New Jersey, dual
                     hosts of the Northeast compact, developed voluntary siting plans.
                     According to the Northeast compact, several potential volunteers
                     discussed the concept of proposing a site for the state’s disposal facility
                     with the state’s siting agency. No volunteers came forward, however,
                     before Connecticut put its program on hold. New Jersey’s siting board
                     interacted with several communities interested in exploring the possibility
                     of volunteering to host that state’s disposal facility, according to the
                     Northeast compact. These communities were eventually eliminated from
                     consideration, however, either because of votes or other actions by the
                     communities to withdraw from consideration or because the siting board
                     eliminated the communities’ potential sites.

                     Public and political opposition sometimes can be couched in
                     environmental terms. For example, on April 16, 1999, the U.S. District
                     Court issued a preliminary injunction against Nebraska and others, finding
                     that there is good reason to think that Nebraska’s denial, on safety and
                     environmental grounds, of a license to construct and operate a disposal
                     facility was “politically preordained.”3 Similarly, in Texas, a state
                     licensing commission denied a license application for a proposed site on
                     the basis of safety and socioeconomic questions even though its own staff
                     found the site to be acceptable.


Access to Disposal   Almost all compacts and states currently have access to one or more of
Facilities           three low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities—Barnwell in South
                     Carolina, Richland in Washington State, and Envirocare in Utah.

                     3
                      Entergy Arkansas, Inc. v Nebraska, __ F Supp.2d—, 1999 WL 225849, (D. Neb. 1999) (p. 12).



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                            Chapter 2
                            Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
                            Develop New Disposal Capacity




                            Consequently, states and compacts have cited the adequate disposal
                            capacity that currently exists as one of the reasons for suspending their
                            disposal programs. For example, Illinois halted its siting efforts, in part,
                            because of the continued availability of disposal capacity for Illinois waste
                            generators. Similarly, in 1996, the Massachusetts low-level waste
                            management board voted to cease all in-state siting efforts because of the
                            renewed access to the Barnwell facility and the expanded availability of
                            the Envirocare facility.

                            One of the reasons for suspending activities that the Midwest compact
                            cited was that its generators have access to existing low-level radioactive
                            waste disposal facilities that appear to have sufficient capacity to accept
                            wastes for a lengthy period of time. They reasoned that unexpected events
                            involving existing, privately operated disposal facilities in South Carolina,
                            Utah, and possibly other locations, have created disincentives to develop
                            new disposal capacity. Similarly, for the Appalachian compact, one of the
                            factors cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
                            for suspending its program was that the current disposal capacity at the
                            Barnwell and Envirocare disposal facilities is projected to be available to
                            Pennsylvania generators for at least 25 years.

                            Furthermore, some states are not too concerned about possible closure of
                            the current facilities. For example, Illinois noted that the loss of capacity
                            at a site like Barnwell would not necessarily constitute a waste
                            management crisis because wastes could be stored temporarily. Also,
                            when New Jersey’s siting board suspended its siting process, the board
                            noted the continuing availability of out-of-state disposal capacity. The
                            board also noted that in the event that the Barnwell facility is closed to
                            waste generators in New Jersey, these generators should be able to store
                            their wastes on-site for the short term.


Reduction in Waste Volume   The unanticipated reduction in the volume of low-level radioactive wastes
                            has also contributed to the suspension of efforts to find sites for new
                            disposal facilities. For example, low-level waste generators in the Midwest
                            compact have successfully instituted waste management and treatment
                            practices including waste minimization, compaction, and incineration.
                            These practices continue to dramatically reduce the amount of wastes
                            annually shipped to disposal facilities. Wastes in the region shipped for
                            disposal were reduced about 83 percent—from a high of 114,700 cubic feet
                            in 1989 to 20,000 in 1996. Similarly, the volume of low-level radioactive
                            wastes disposed of from Pennsylvania has decreased from more than



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                        Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
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                        225,000 cubic feet in 1991 to less than 30,000 in 1997, or about an
                        87-percent reduction. This reduction was one of the factors that led to the
                        suspension of the search for a low-level waste disposal facility in
                        Pennsylvania for the Appalachian compact.

                        The Northeast and Central Midwest compacts also noted reductions in the
                        volume of disposed waste. For the Northeast compact, New Jersey’s siting
                        board suspended the siting process, noting the ongoing efforts of the
                        state’s low-level radioactive waste generators to minimize the volume of
                        wastes requiring disposal. For the Central Midwest compact, Illinois noted
                        the 75-percent decline in the waste volume shipped from Illinois from 1986
                        through 1997. Over 200,000 cubic feet was shipped in 1986, but less than
                        50,000 cubic feet was shipped in 1997.


High Cost of Disposal   The high cost of a disposal facility has also affected decisions to suspend
Facilities              low-level waste disposal programs in some states. The Midwest compact,
                        in halting its disposal program, noted that the estimated cost of new
                        disposal facilities had risen significantly. The compact estimated that the
                        cost of developing a disposal facility would range from $105 million to
                        $216 million, not counting the annual cost to operate the facility.

                        When the reduced volume of wastes is considered with the high cost of
                        construction, a disposal facility is even more costly. For example, because
                        of the decline in volume, Illinois developed an economic model to evaluate
                        various development strategies. The model indicated that developing the
                        disposal facility, given the reduced volumes, would yield a facility that was
                        not economically viable (assuming that waste disposal charges would be
                        based on waste volume). Furthermore, the facility would not become
                        economically viable until waste generation rates increase due to the
                        decommissioning of nuclear power stations—sometime around 2010.


                        As a result of difficulties in developing disposal facilities and conditions
Some States Have        such as relatively low volumes of low-level radioactive wastes, at least one
Expressed Interest in   state’s siting agency—Connecticut’s Hazardous Waste Management
Long-Term Storage of    Service—is considering storing these wastes for 100 years or more using a
                        concept called assured isolation storage. Unlike disposal facilities, where
Wastes                  the emphasis is placed on the natural characteristics of a site, assured
                        isolation primarily relies on engineered barriers and institutional controls,
                        such as periodic inspection and maintenance, to ensure public safety over
                        the prospective storage period (on the order of 100 to 300 years). Waste



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Status of Compacts’ and States’ Efforts to
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management agencies in other states, such as North Carolina and Texas,
have also explored various approaches to storing wastes on a long-term
basis.

Long-term storage is an interim, rather than final, solution to the issue of
the long-term management of commercial low-level radioactive wastes.
Eventually, a permanent solution for longer-lived wastes—either
permanent disposal or continued, monitored storage—would be required.
Proponents of assured isolation maintain that the concept (1) preserves
future management options including continued isolation, retrieval,
recycling, or even potentially closure in place; (2) permits isolation
facilities to be safely colocated with existing nuclear facilities; and
(3) might permit states to postpone disposal decisions until more
favorable conditions exist or until the need for disposal capacity becomes
more urgent.

Critics of assured isolation question these asserted advantages. They also
point out that it may also be difficult to make adequate arrangements to
ensure that sufficient funds are available for this alternative followed by
the recovery of some or all of the wastes from an isolation facility
followed by the permanent disposal of these wastes in a disposal facility.
In effect, the critics argue, long-term storage creates a burden on future
generations. There are also legal concerns about whether a long-term
storage facility, such as an assured isolation facility, developed by a
compact would comply with the requirement for permanent disposal
contained in the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of
1985. Texas’ low-level radioactive waste authority, having been denied a
disposal license, is now considering new options for siting, including
developing a facility for assured isolation, or long-term storage, of
commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes. In response to a
question on whether a law requiring the development of a facility for
assured isolation of wastes would satisfy the state’s compact obligations,
the state’s attorney general concluded that such a facility would comply
with the state’s obligations to “manage and provide for” the disposal of
low-level radioactive wastes generated within the compact. However, the
attorney general also concluded that a facility for the assured isolation of
wastes would not currently satisfy the state’s obligation to “permanently
dispose of” these wastes.

Connecticut’s Hazardous Waste Management Service has also decided to
consider the assured isolation of low-level radioactive wastes generated
within the state as an alternative to the disposal of these wastes. That



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state’s efforts to find a site for a disposal facility have been unsuccessful,
and the accessibility of the Barnwell and Envirocare disposal facilities to
the state’s waste generators have reduced the perceived urgency of
developing a disposal facility. According to a draft legal analysis prepared
for the Service, an assured isolation facility could be established and
maintained in accordance with the law if its development is carefully
planned and legal issues are properly taken into account.4

Finally, in December 1997, North Carolina, whose waste generators do not
have access to the Barnwell facility, shut down its project to develop a
disposal facility for low-level radioactive wastes pending any changes in
funding or direction. The state’s siting authority asked the legislature to
consider a plan for storing wastes as an alternative to the disposal project.
The authority wanted to study the possibility of storing waste materials
containing only relatively short-lived radionuclides separate from wastes
contaminated with longer-lived radionuclides. By segregating wastes in
this manner, the authority said, it might be possible to recycle the waste
materials containing short-lived radionuclides or to dispose of these
materials as normal trash following an appropriate storage period. Waste
materials contaminated with longer-lived radionuclides could eventually
be disposed of in a much smaller disposal facility than the state had
planned to develop for the Southeast compact. Instead of accepting the
authority’s request, the legislature enacted, and on July 26, 1999, the
governor signed, legislation withdrawing the state from the Southeast
compact.5 Among other things, the legislation essentially shut down the
siting authority and forbade its licensing agency to issue a license for a
disposal facility until further notice.




4
 The Connecticut Hazardous Waste Management Service commissioned the analysis of certain legal
issues surrounding the concept of assured isolation for the management of low-level radioactive
wastes in Connecticut.
5
 General Assembly of North Carolina Session Law 1999-357, July 26, 1999.



Page 34                                 GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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Most Waste Generators Currently Have
Access to Disposal Capacity

                    Generally, commercial generators of low-level radioactive wastes
                    throughout the nation currently have access to one or more of the three
                    existing disposal facilities. The Barnwell facility in South Carolina opened
                    in 1971. Currently, waste generators in all states except North Carolina
                    have access to that facility. The Richland facility in Washington opened in
                    1965. Waste generators within the 11 states making up the Northwest and
                    Rocky Mountain compacts have access to the facility. Finally, the
                    Envirocare facility in Utah has been accepting low-level radioactive wastes
                    since 1991 and at present primarily provides disposal to all states except
                    those in the Northwest compact. Most low-level radioactive wastes
                    disposed of at that facility are large-volume wastes that are slightly
                    contaminated with very low concentrations of radioactivity. Because the
                    volume of wastes from normal operations has declined dramatically, the
                    Barnwell facility is large enough to accommodate waste generators for
                    about 10 more years and the other two disposal facilities have enough
                    remaining capacity to last longer.

                    The wastes that do not have access to disposal are (1) mixed low-level
                    wastes that do not meet license criteria for disposal at the Envirocare
                    facility, (2) most of the low-level radioactive wastes generated in North
                    Carolina, and (3) the most concentrated class of low-level radioactive
                    wastes—greater-than-class-C wastes—for which disposal is DOE’s
                    responsibility.


                    Since 1986, the volume, if not the radioactivity, of low-level radioactive
The Changing        wastes produced from commercial nuclear operations and disposed of
Low-Level           each year as normal operating wastes has declined. In the 1990s, however,
Radioactive Waste   the decline in operating waste has been offset, in part, by bulk wastes,
                    such as contaminated soil, generated from dismantling and cleaning up
Situation           nuclear facilities.

                    In 1986, the first year after the 1985 compact act was passed, commercial
                    waste generators disposed of almost 1.8 million cubic feet of low-level
                    radioactive wastes from normal operations. Since then, the volume, but
                    not the radioactivity, of wastes from normal operations has steadily
                    declined. By 1998, the amount was over 1 million cubic feet less than in
                    1986. (Fig. 3.1 shows the changing volume of wastes and fig. 3.2 shows the
                    radioactivity in these wastes.) However, companies have also begun to




                    Page 35                       GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                  Chapter 3
                                  Most Waste Generators Currently Have
                                  Access to Disposal Capacity




                                  dispose of bulk materials generated from dismantling and/or cleaning up
                                  nuclear sites.1


Figure 3.1: Volume of Low-Level
Wastes Disposed of From 1986      4,000,000
Through 1998




                                  3,000,000




                                  2,000,000




                                  1,000,000




                                            0


                                                1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
                                                  Year

                                                         Cleanup waste
                                                         Normal operating waste

                                                         Total


                                  Sources: GAO, from information obtained from DOE’s manifest information management system
                                  for commercial low-level radioactive wastes and from Envirocare of Utah.




                                  1
                                   The separation between operating wastes and cleanup wastes is not well defined. Operational wastes
                                  are generally defined as wastes that come from the nuclear power industry or from any entity that uses
                                  radioactive materials as part of an ongoing operation (even if that “operation” occurs only once every
                                  2 years). Such wastes include materials like sludge and debris. In contrast, cleanup wastes are
                                  low-level radioactive wastes that have been contaminated by past activities; furthermore there is no
                                  longer any ongoing operation at the plant. Cleanup is a one-time event and, although the waste volume
                                  may be large, it is also very low in radioactivity.



                                  Page 36                                 GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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                                         Most Waste Generators Currently Have
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Figure 3.2: Radioactivity in Low-Level
Wastes Disposed of From 1986             1,200,000    Curies
Through 1998



                                         1,000,000




                                          800,000




                                          600,000




                                          400,000




                                          200,000




                                                0
                                                        6




                                                                            9

                                                                                  90




                                                                                               92




                                                                                                             4

                                                                                                                   95




                                                                                                                               97

                                                                                                                                     98
                                                                                                                         96
                                                               7

                                                                     88




                                                                                         1




                                                                                                      3
                                                         8




                                                                             8




                                                                                                              9
                                                                8




                                                                                          9




                                                                                                       9
                                                      19




                                                                          19


                                                                                 19




                                                                                              19




                                                                                                           19

                                                                                                                  19




                                                                                                                              19

                                                                                                                                    19
                                                                                                                        19
                                                             19

                                                                    19




                                                                                       19




                                                                                                    19




                                                      Year



                                         Sources: GAO, from information obtained from DOE’s manifest information management system
                                         for commercial low-level radioactive wastes and from Envirocare of Utah.




                                         The cleanup wastes shown in figure 3.1, although comprising about 58
                                         percent of the total volume of low-level radioactive wastes disposed of
                                         after 1990, contain just a few hundred curies of radioactivity. As discussed
                                         below, these wastes were disposed of at the Envirocare, Utah, disposal
                                         facility. In 1998, for example, more than 1 million cubic feet of
                                         commercially generated cleanup wastes were disposed of at the
                                         Envirocare facility; these wastes contained only about 127 curies of




                                         Page 37                                 GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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Most Waste Generators Currently Have
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radioactivity.2 In contrast, the approximately 195,000 cubic feet of
low-level radioactive wastes disposed of at Barnwell in the same year
contained over 330,000 curies of radioactivity.

The decline in the estimated volume of low-level radioactive wastes is
illustrated by the experience in Illinois. In 1991, the volume of wastes
projected to be disposed of at a planned facility in that state over a 50-year
period was about 9 million cubic feet, or 180,000 cubic feet per year. This
projection did not include wastes from eventually dismantling and
cleaning up the sites of the 14 nuclear power plants located in the state
after the retirement of these plants. Seven years later, the state’s nuclear
safety department and other parties reanalyzed the projected volume of
wastes. The new analysis estimated that the total volume of low-level
radioactive wastes requiring disposal over the next 50 years is about
3.7 million cubic feet, or an average of 73,800 cubic feet per year—a nearly
60-percent reduction. This analysis included wastes from
decommissioning nuclear power plants, which represent 5 to 10 times the
volume of normal operating wastes.

The decommissioning of nuclear power plants after they have been retired
will eventually increase the volume of commercially generated low-level
radioactive wastes. It is uncertain, however, just when and at what rate
this will occur. By the end of 2010, the existing operating licenses for 8 of
the 104 plants that are currently licensed to operate will expire. The
operating licenses for another 51 plants will expire by the end of 2020. If
these plants operate during their licensed periods and then are retired and
immediately dismantled, the demand for disposal capacity could increase
significantly after 2010. The Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, has
estimated that each nuclear generating plant that is retired will generate
about 250,000 cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes.3 On the basis of
the Institute’s estimates of when nuclear power plants might be retired

2
 Although DOE’s manifest information management system recorded 127 curies of radioactivity in
low-level radioactive wastes disposed of at the Envirocare facility in 1998, information that Envirocare
of Utah provided to us showed that 290 curies worth of radioactivity were disposed of at the facility in
that year. Because both amounts are relatively small, we did not reconcile the reason(s) for the
difference. To provide consistency with volume and radioactivity amounts compiled by DOE for the
Barnwell and Richland disposal facilities, we have used the amounts shown in DOE’s manifest
information management system for the Envirocare facility.
3
 The volume of low-level radioactive wastes from decommissioning nuclear power plants is illustrated
by recent experience at two plants. The Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado was retired in August 1989.
This plant was relatively small and used a technology that is not typical in nuclear power plants. Over
the next 7 years, a total of nearly 143,000 cubic feet of wastes was shipped to the Beatty and Richland
disposal facilities. The Trojan plant in Oregon, which was a large, modern plant using a reactor
technology similar to many nuclear power plants, was retired in November 1992. Since then, nearly
181,500 cubic feet of wastes has been shipped to the Richland disposal facility. Officials at that plant
estimate that about 400,000 cubic feet of wastes will eventually be shipped to the Richland facility.



Page 38                                  GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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                                                                     Most Waste Generators Currently Have
                                                                     Access to Disposal Capacity




                                                                     and then begin disposing of decommissioning wastes, nearly 25 million
                                                                     cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes from decommissioning retired
                                                                     plants might be disposed of during the next 35 years. Figure 3.2 illustrates
                                                                     the increase in decommissioning wastes on the basis of the Institute’s
                                                                     projections through 2020. The information in the figure assumes that
                                                                     (1) the amount of normal operating wastes disposed of each year will be
                                                                     equal to the annual average of the amount disposed of from 1993 through
                                                                     1998 and (2) each plant will be decommissioned immediately after the end
                                                                     of its current licensed operating period.



Figure 3.3: Estimates of Future Increase in Wastes From Decommissioning

5000000 Cubic feet

4500000

4000000

3500000

3000000

2500000

2000000

1500000

1000000

500000

      0
                                           03




                                                                                                                                       16




                                                                                                                                                          19


                                                                                                                                                                 20
                                                  4




                                                                06




                                                                               08


                                                                                      09

                                                                                             10


                                                                                                    11




                                                                                                                  13


                                                                                                                         14




                                                                                                                                                     18
                                                                                                                                5
                    0




                                   02




                                                         05
                           01




                                                                        07




                                                                                                           2




                                                                                                                                              17
            99




                                                   0




                                                                                                                                 1
                     0




                                                                                                            1
                                        20




                                                                                                                                     20




                                                                                                                                                          20


                                                                                                                                                               20
                                                                                                                              20
                                                20




                                                              20




                                                                             20


                                                                                    20

                                                                                           20


                                                                                                  20




                                                                                                                20


                                                                                                                       20




                                                                                                                                                   20
                  20




                                20




                                                       20
                         20




                                                                      20




                                                                                                         20




                                                                                                                                            20
          19




          Years

                                                        Operations

                                                         Decommissioning


                                                                     Source: GAO from information provided by the Nuclear Energy Institute.




                                                                     Page 39                                           GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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                       There is, however, uncertainty in forecasting the amount of commercial
                       low-level radioactive wastes from decommissioning nuclear power plants.
                       For example, the economic deregulation of the electricity industry could
                       make some nuclear power plants uneconomical, and therefore, subject to
                       early retirement.4 On the other hand, NRC permits utilities to seek
                       extensions of plant licenses for up to 20 years. Two utilities have sought
                       plant life extensions, for a total of five operating nuclear power plants,
                       another utility has announced that it intends to apply for a license
                       extension for one of its plants, and other utilities are considering life
                       extensions. To the extent that utilities obtain extensions of the operating
                       licenses for their plants and operate the plants for longer periods, the
                       decommissioning of the plants would be postponed. Finally, there is
                       uncertainty about how soon after retirement nuclear power plants would
                       be decommissioned because NRC does not require immediate dismantling
                       upon retirement. In fact, utilities may maintain their retired plants in a safe
                       shutdown condition for decades before dismantling them.5


                       Collectively, the Barnwell, Richland, and Envirocare disposal facilities
Almost All Waste       currently provide disposal capacity for almost all types of low-level
Generators Currently   radioactive wastes and almost all waste generators. (Appendix II provides
Have Access to One     additional information on these three facilities.) The Barnwell facility
                       accepts class A, B, and C low-level radioactive wastes generated in all
or More Disposal       states except North Carolina. The Richland facility accepts class A, B, and
Facilities             C low-level radioactive wastes produced in the 11 states that make up the
                       Northwest and Rocky Mountain compacts. The Envirocare of Utah facility
                       accepts only class A low-level radioactive wastes and low-level mixed
                       wastes; moreover, the facility may dispose of wastes that contain only
                       specific radionuclides in concentrations within the terms of the facility’s
                       license. Within these limits, waste generators in 44 states—all states
                       except the 8 states of the Northwest compact—may dispose of their
                       wastes at this facility.

                       Table 3.1 shows, for 1998, the volume of low-level radioactive wastes
                       disposed of at each of the three operating disposal facilities by compact
                       and state. Although the Envirocare facility disposed of over five times as



                       4
                        For more discussion, see Nuclear Regulation: Better Oversight Needed to Ensure Accumulation of
                       Funds to Decommission Nuclear Power Plants (GAO/RCED-99-75, May 3, 1999).
                       5
                        The National Research Council is preparing to study the sources, types, and volumes of commercial
                       low-level radioactive wastes to be generated in the future, including wastes from decommissioning
                       retired nuclear power plants.



                       Page 40                                GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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                                          much volume of wastes as the Barnwell facility, 99 percent of the
                                          radioactivity was disposed of at the Barnwell facility.


Table 3.1: Volume and Radioactivity of Low-Level Wastes Disposed of in 1998 by Compact, State, and Disposal Site
Volume in cubic feet
                                          Envirocare              Barnwell                Richland                 Total
Compact/State                           Volume      Curies    Volume      Curies      Volume       Curies    Volume         Curies
Appalachian                              32,448          0     18,064      44,260                             50,512        44,260
Delaware                                                          174            0                               174             0
Maryland                                  5,600          0      2,004          531                              7,605          532
Pennsylvaniaa                            26,848          0     15,838      43,691                             42,686        43,691
West Virginia                                                      48            37                                48           37
Central                                     795          0      5,537        8,400                              6,332        8,400
Arkansas                                                          366            7                               366             7
Kansas                                                          1,014          354                              1,014          354
Louisiana                                                       1,235          292                              1,235          292
Nebraskaa                                                       2,922        7,747                              2,922        7,747
Oklahoma                                    795          0           1           0                               796             0
Central Midwest                          38,875          9     29,079    112,658                              67,954       112,667
Illinoisa                                35,995          8     28,952    112,654                              64,947       112,662
Kentucky                                  2,880          1        126            4                              3,006            5
Midwest                                 144,582          2      6,024        1,543                           150,605         1,545
Indiana                                                            74            45                                74           45
Iowa                                                            1,036          267                              1,036          267
Minnesota                                                       1,317          314                              1,317          314
Missouri                                 15,629          0        499          811                            16,128           812
Ohio                                    128,953          2      1,554            98                          130,507           100
Wisconsin                                                       1,544            8                              1,544            8
Northwest                                                          16          725    142,569         692    142,586         1,417
Alaska
Hawaii                                                             11          645       1,798         48       1,809          692
Idaho                                                                2           22          4          0           6           22
Montana                                                                                      9          0           9            0
Oregon                                                               1           57    92,742         495     92,743           551
Utah                                                                                   17,204           2     17,204             2
            a
Washington                                                           2           2     30,808         148     30,810           150
Wyoming                                                                                      4          0           4            0
Rocky Mountain                                                       3           23      2,199        964       2,202          987
Colorado                                                             2           11      1,747        964       1,749          975
                                                                                                                        (continued)


                                          Page 41                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                          Chapter 3
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Volume in cubic feet
                              Envirocare                Barnwell                Richland                  Total
Compact/State           Volume        Curies         Volume    Curies       Volume       Curies     Volume        Curies
Nevada                                                                            56          0           56               0
New Mexico                                                1           12        395           0          396              12
Northeast                 5,173             0         12,034    21,406                               17,206        21,406
Connecticuta              5,173             0          3,480         223                               8,653         223
New Jerseya                                            8,553    21,183                                 8,553       21,183
Southeast               451,993             40        73,202    27,506                              525,196        27,546
Alabama                        558          0          6,994       3,583                               7,552        3,583
Florida                  14,889             5         24,642       2,084                             39,531         2,089
Georgia                                                9,916       1,233                               9,916        1,233
Mississippi                                             777     17,376                                   777       17,376
North Carolinaa           7,390             4                                                          7,390               4
Tennessee               413,034             28        22,242         695                            435,271          723
Virginia                 16,122             2          8,631       2,536                             24,753         2,538
Southwestern              8,826             0          7,313         837                             16,139          838
Arizona                                                3,886         246                               3,886         246
           a
California                8,826             0          3,376         570                             12,202          571
North Dakota                                             49            2                                  49               2
South Dakota                                              2           19                                   2              19
Texas                    10,583             8          6,636       2,946                             17,218         2,954
Maine                                                  4,125       1,067                               4,125        1,067
Texasa                   10,583             8          2,485       1,880                             13,067         1,887
Vermont                                                  26            0                                  26               0
Unaffiliated            386,476             68        36,608   112,474                              423,084       112,542
District of Columbia                                    245           26                                 245              26
Massachusetts           152,109             25         3,545    18,974                              155,654        18,998
Michigan                 71,495             0         10,206    37,423                               81,701        37,424
New Hampshire                                           262           86                                 262              86
New York                  2,313             0         11,521    54,757                               13,834        54,757
Puerto Rico                                              11            0                                  11               0
Rhode Island                                             53           22                                  53              22
South Carolina            3,371             2         10,765       1,187                             14,135         1,189
Unknown                 157,188             40                                                      157,188               40
Total                  1,079,750           127       194,516   332,779      144,768        1,656 1,419,034        334,563
Percent                         76          0            14           99          10          0          100         100

                          a
                           Host state for compact.

                          Source: DOE’s National low-level radioactive waste manifest information management system and
                          Envirocare data from monthly reports submitted to the Northwest compact.



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Barnwell Facility   Since the Barnwell disposal facility began operating in 1971 near DOE’s
                    Savannah River site, more than 25 million cubic feet of commercially
                    generated low-level radioactive wastes containing nearly 8 million curies
                    of radioactivity have been disposed of at the facility. One of the original
                    six low-level waste disposal facilities developed in the 1960s and 1970s, the
                    facility is authorized to dispose of all class A, B, and C low-level
                    radioactive wastes. The facility is not, however, authorized to dispose of
                    mixed low-level wastes. In addition, the facility is authorized by the state
                    of South Carolina to dispose of naturally occurring and
                    accelerator-produced radioactive material (NARM) from throughout the
                    nation.

                    The Barnwell facility is currently the only disposal facility available to
                    waste generators in 40 states that generate class B and C low-level
                    radioactive wastes or that generate class A wastes that do not meet license
                    criteria for disposal at the Envirocare facility. These 40 states include the
                    District of Columbia and Puerto Rico but do not include North Carolina,
                    the eight-state Northwest compact, and the three-state Rocky Mountain
                    compact.

                    In 1998, about 99 percent of the curies of radioactivity disposed of in
                    commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes were disposed of at
                    the Barnwell facility. Also, about 60 percent of the low-level radioactive
                    wastes disposed of at the Barnwell facility from 1986 through 1998 were
                    from utilities that operate nuclear power plants. At present, 98 of the 104
                    nuclear power plants in the country that are licensed to operate are
                    located in the 40 states that only have access to the Barnwell facility for
                    disposal of their class B and class C wastes. (Five of the remaining six
                    plants are located in North Carolina and the other plant is in Washington
                    State.) In addition, 17 nuclear power plants that have been permanently
                    shut down and are either being decommissioned or are in safe storage
                    prior to being decommissioned only have access to the Barnwell facility to
                    dispose of their low-level radioactive wastes that do not meet license
                    criteria for disposal at the Envirocare facility.

                    Until 1999, Chem-Nuclear Services, LLC, which operates the Barnwell
                    facility, estimated that the 34 acres of unused land at the facility had an
                    available disposal capacity of over 6 million cubic feet of waste. At current
                    disposal levels, the company estimated, the facility could operate for up to
                    another 25 years. In 1999, however, South Carolina’s Department Health
                    and Environment reevaluated the unused portion of the facility and
                    determined that slightly over half of the unused land is not suitable for



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                      disposal because of shallow groundwater levels and other geohydrological
                      conditions. This reevaluation reduced the estimated disposal capacity for
                      the facility from over 6 million to about 3.2 million cubic feet. According to
                      the department, this capacity would permit the continued use of the
                      facility for about 10 years. Chem-Nuclear Services, LLC, concurs with the
                      department’s analysis.


Richland Facility     Located within DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington, the
                      Richland facility, like the Barnwell facility, was one of the original six
                      disposal facilities for commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes.
                      Since the facility began operating in 1965, more than 13 million cubic feet
                      of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes, containing about
                      3 million curies of radioactivity, has been disposed of at the facility. The
                      Richland facility has a remaining capacity of about 44 million cubic feet of
                      low-level radioactive wastes.

                      The Richland facility provided disposal services for low-level radioactive
                      waste generators throughout the nation until 1993, when it became the
                      regional facility for the eight-state Northwest compact. In addition, a
                      contract between the Northwest and the Rocky Mountain compacts
                      permits commercial waste generators in the three states comprising the
                      latter compact to dispose of their low-level radioactive wastes at the
                      Richland facility. In addition, the facility is authorized to receive and
                      dispose of NARM from throughout the nation. The facility is not licensed to
                      dispose of mixed low-level radioactive wastes. The region covered by the
                      two compacts contains one operating commercial nuclear power plant and
                      one retired plant that is now being dismantled.


Envirocare Facility   Envirocare of Utah, Inc., located west of Salt Lake City within a
                      100-square-mile hazardous waste zone in Tooele County, has been
                      operating as a disposal facility for various types of radioactive wastes
                      since 1988. More than 10 million cubic feet of commercially generated
                      low-level radioactive wastes, containing 416 curies of radioactivity, was
                      disposed of at this facility from 1991 through 1998. The facility is
                      authorized to dispose of certain class A low-level radioactive wastes and
                      mixed low-level radioactive wastes under specified restrictions contained
                      in the state’s license for the facility. The license restrictions include limits
                      on radionuclides, concentrations, and specifications on the physical and
                      chemical properties of the wastes. The Envirocare facility is designed to
                      treat and dispose of about 430 million cubic feet of wastes, including about



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247 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes from commercial and
DOE sources. In addition, the Envirocare site has the capacity to dispose of
about 26.5 million cubic feet of mixed low-level radioactive wastes. From
10 to 15 percent of the total disposal capacity for low-level radioactive and
mixed low-level wastes has been used.

The state of Utah initially licensed the Envirocare facility in 1988 as a
facility for naturally occurring radioactive wastes. In March 1991, under its
NRC-agreement state authority, the state amended the license to permit the
disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. Also, NRC has licensed the
Envirocare facility to dispose of uranium and thorium mill tailings. In
addition to commercial waste generators, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), DOE, and the Department of Defense have shipped wastes to
Envirocare for treatment and disposal.

Beginning in 1993, the Northwest compact established a policy restricting
the importation of low-level radioactive wastes into the compact region
for disposal (except for the contract permitting the disposal of wastes
generated in the Rocky Mountain compact). In 1995, Envirocare
announced plans to expand its acceptance of some kinds of low-level
radioactive wastes to waste generators in all states outside of the
Northwest compact region. To do this, Envirocare sought and received an
exception to the Northwest compact’s restrictive policy. The exception
exempted “large volume, very low concentration low-level radioactive
wastes from cleanup operations” from the restriction. The exception to
the general policy of the Northwest compact was intended to provide for
certain types of low-level radioactive wastes that are generated during the
dismantling of nuclear facilities and/or the cleanup of contaminated sites
of these facilities.

In January 1996, Envirocare applied for a renewal of its license for the
disposal facility. The state of Utah issued the renewed license in
October 1998. Also, in November 1998, the Northwest compact removed
the restriction that only “large volumes” of cleanup wastes could be
disposed of at the Envirocare facility by authorizing Envirocare to accept
waste shipments of less than 1,000 cubic feet from any one shipper. This
change was made, according to officials of the state and the compact, so
as not to penalize small waste generators that had limited space to store
accumulating wastes.

The Envirocare facility is not licensed to accept any class B and class C
low-level wastes. The facility may dispose of only class A wastes that



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                         contain permissible concentrations of radionuclides specifically identified
                         in the facility’s license. According to officials of Envirocare, because their
                         operation does not include the use of remote handling equipment for
                         waste containers, they have chosen not to try to expand their operation to
                         include other classes of low-level radioactive wastes. Before the company
                         could begin to dispose of additional class A wastes or any class B or C
                         wastes, these officials stated, they would have to address any concerns of
                         the Northwest compact, the state of Utah, and Tooele County. Also,
                         according to officials of Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality,
                         state law requires the approval of the state’s governor and legislature to
                         expand the types of wastes that the facility could accept for disposal. In
                         addition, the disposal of class B and/or C wastes at the Envirocare facility
                         would require a fundamental change in the way the facility is operated. As
                         discussed earlier, the disposal of class B and C wastes requires more
                         stable waste forms and tougher packaging requirements. Also, the disposal
                         of class C wastes requires that measures be taken at the disposal facility to
                         protect against inadvertent human intrusion. Meeting these requirements
                         would not be possible at the Envirocare facility under the existing
                         operating methods. Much of the wastes disposed of at the Envirocare
                         facility are contaminated soil or soil-like materials. Other types of waste
                         materials are dumped from their shipping containers and mixed with dirt
                         before being spread out in layers in the disposal area. Because of the more
                         stringent packaging and structural requirements for class B and class C
                         wastes and the related worker exposure issues that would be involved, the
                         disposal approach employed at the Envirocare facility precludes the
                         disposal of class B and class C wastes as well as some radionuclides
                         and/or concentrations of radionuclides that are classified as class A
                         low-level radioactive wastes.


                         Although most waste generators currently have access to one or more
Some Wastes Do Not       disposal facilities for low-level radioactive wastes, there are three basic
Have Access to           exceptions. The exceptions are (1) mixed low-level wastes that do not
Disposal Facilities      meet the license criteria for disposal at the Envirocare of Utah facility,
                         (2) wastes generated in North Carolina that do not meet Envirocare’s
                         disposal criteria, and (3) greater-than-class-C wastes for which disposal is
                         DOE’s responsibility.



Mixed Low-Level Wastes   The Envirocare facility is the only existing disposal facility that is
                         authorized to dispose of mixed low-level wastes. The facility is authorized
                         to accept both low-level radioactive wastes and mixed low-level wastes



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                          from waste generators in all states outside of the Northwest compact.
                          However, the state of Utah’s license for this facility specifies the average
                          concentration of each radionuclide authorized for disposal and limitations
                          on the hazardous constituent(s) of the mixed low-level wastes.
                          Collectively, the radionuclides and concentration limits make up a large,
                          but incomplete, subset of what NRC defines as class A wastes. Thus, any
                          mixed low-level wastes that contain radionuclides and/or hazardous
                          constituents that either are not listed on the facility’s license or exceed
                          limits specified in the license may not be disposed of at the facility.

                          Neither DOE nor NRC routinely compiles information on the amounts of
                          mixed low-level wastes generated in the United States each year.
                          Moreover, we were unable to identify any other source of comprehensive
                          information on the types and quantities of mixed wastes that are currently
                          being generated and stored by commercial users of radioactive materials.
                          However, at least one state—Illinois—surveyed its licensees in 1997 and
                          found that about 2,300 cubic feet of mixed low-level wastes was being
                          stored at waste generators’ sites in that state. Also in 1997, a working
                          group of the Low-Level Waste Forum representing seven states surveyed
                          generators of mixed low-level wastes within their states. Although the
                          working group found it difficult to calculate the volume of mixed low-level
                          wastes that was in storage, consultation with processors of mixed
                          low-level wastes indicated that waste generators’ reports of untreatable
                          mixed wastes were generally accurate.

                          In commenting on our report, NRC stated that in 1992, the Commission and
                          EPA published a report compiling a national profile on the volumes,
                          characteristics, and ability to treat commercially generated mixed
                          low-level wastes for 1990.6 NRC added that other reports were subsequently
                          issued by others, including DOE.7 Generally, according to NRC, these reports
                          have found that the amount of mixed wastes generated each year is
                          relatively small and that most of it can be treated to remove its hazardous
                          constituents or characteristics.


Most Waste Generated in   Waste generators in North Carolina currently have access only to the
North Carolina            Envirocare facility for disposing of slightly contaminated class A wastes
                          that meet that facility’s license criteria. When South Carolina withdrew
                          from the Southeast compact in 1995, its withdrawal legislation denied
                          waste generators in North Carolina access to the Barnwell facility because

                          6
                           National Profile on Commercially Generated Low-Level Radioactive Mixed Waste (NUREG/CR-5938).
                          7
                           Mixed Waste Management Options: 1995 Update (DOE/LLW-219).



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                            the state of North Carolina was allegedly not making sufficient progress
                            toward developing a new disposal facility. That state had been selected by
                            the Southeast Compact Commission as the host state for the compact’s
                            next—after the Barnwell facility—disposal facility. According to the
                            Executive Director of the Southeast Compact Commission, South
                            Carolina’s action to deny North Carolina waste generators access to the
                            Barnwell facility violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution as
                            an unwarranted state restraint on interstate commerce. However, she
                            added, the denial has not been challenged in the courts. The reason may
                            be related to the fact that the largest waste generators in North
                            Carolina—Carolina Power and Light, Duke Power, and General
                            Electric—own and operate nuclear facilities in both states.

                            An official in South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental
                            Protection agreed that denying waste generators in North Carolina access
                            to the Barnwell facility probably violates the Constitution’s commerce
                            clause. He pointed out that the basic purpose of the compact legislation
                            was to provide states with incentives to form compacts and develop new
                            disposal capacity by, among other things, granting compacts relief from
                            the constitutional prohibition on restraining interstate commerce.

                            According to North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural
                            Resources, at the beginning of 1998, generators of low-level radioactive
                            wastes located in the state were storing over 57,000 cubic feet of wastes
                            containing over 500 curies of radioactivity. Also, according to the
                            department, there are waste generators within the state that are
                            maintaining their existing licenses to use radioactive materials solely to
                            enable them to store their low-level radioactive wastes. About 11,700 cubic
                            feet of these wastes was, according to the department, being stored while
                            the radioactivity in the wastes decayed. These wastes, which usually have
                            a half-life of less than 110 days, can be disposed of as nonradioactive
                            wastes after a sufficient period of decay.


Wastes That DOE Is          DOE is responsible for disposing of commercially generated wastes that are
Responsible for Disposing   classified, under NRC’s regulations on low-level radioactive wastes, as
                            “greater-than-class-C” wastes. NRC requires that greater-than-class-C
                            low-level radioactive wastes be disposed of in a geologic repository unless
                            a proposal for disposing of these wastes in a facility licensed under NRC’s
                            regulations for low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities has been
                            approved by NRC’s Commissioners. According to DOE, a disposal facility for




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this type of low-level radioactive waste may not be available for 20 years
or more.

Greater-than-class-C wastes consist of materials and equipment such as
control rods from nuclear power plants, hardware used to disassemble
bundles of spent (used) nuclear fuel, and sealed radioactive sources that
are used in medical and industrial applications. The largest volume of this
class of commercially generated waste is produced by the operation and
the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. In 1996, DOE estimated that
over 7,000 cubic feet of this type of waste—containing over 4 million curies
of radioactivity—is being stored and the amount of greater-than-class-C
wastes generated through 2035, when the current licenses for operating
nuclear power plants will have expired, will amount to about 86,000 cubic
feet of wastes containing about 37 million curies of radioactivity. This
projected volume is small when compared to the quantities of class A, B,
and C low-level radioactive wastes disposed of each year.

DOE  is addressing—through an environmental impact statement—the
environmental effects of disposing of greater-than-class-C waste in a
potential geologic repository for spent fuel and high-level radioactive
waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. This environmental impact statement
will primarily address the effects of disposing of 70,000 metric tons of
spent fuel and high-level radioactive wastes owned and/or generated by
both electric utilities and the federal government.8 Secondarily, DOE is
analyzing the effects of also disposing of (1) the total projected
amount—almost 120,000 metric tons—of spent fuel and high-level
radioactive wastes from both commercial generators and DOE and (2) the
projected inventory of commercially generated greater-than-class-C wastes
and similar wastes generated by DOE. In August 1999, DOE released a draft
of its environmental impact statement for public comment. Among other
things, DOE concluded that there would be little additional impact on the
environment from disposing of greater-than-class-C waste and DOE’s
similar wastes at Yucca Mountain. DOE did not state in this environmental
statement, however, that it would dispose of these wastes at a repository
at Yucca Mountain. In this regard, DOE noted that disposing of these wastes
at Yucca Mountain could require either legislative action or a decision by
NRC to reclassify these wastes as high-level radioactive wastes.




8
 The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, limits the amount of wastes that DOE could
dispose of in the repository, if developed, to 70,000 metric tons.



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                           States and compacts are not actively developing new disposal capacity for
                           commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes in part because
                           waste generators in all states except North Carolina have access to the
                           Barnwell disposal facility. That facility, however, may reach its disposal
                           capacity in about 10 years—just when a significant number of nuclear
                           power plants may be retired and decommissioned, generating additional
                           wastes. Moreover, access to the Barnwell facility could be curtailed as
                           early as 2000 by the government of South Carolina or Chem-Nuclear
                           Systems, LLC, could decide to close the facility on economic grounds.
                           Also, recent initiatives by private companies to license and develop new
                           waste disposal facilities have not been successful. Thus, within 10 years,
                           waste generators in the 41 states that do not have access to the Richland
                           disposal facility may once again be without access to disposal capacity for
                           much of their low-level radioactive wastes.

                           The conditions discussed above raise the following question: “What, if
                           anything, could be done to ensure that adequate, reliable disposal capacity
                           remains available to meet commercial needs for the foreseeable future?”
                           Among the alternatives available for consideration are (1) retaining the
                           current compact approach, (2) repealing the compact act in favor of a
                           free-market approach to waste disposal services, or (3) designating one or
                           more of DOE’s disposal facilities for the disposal of commercially generated
                           waste.


                           Although generators of low-level radioactive wastes in all states except
Continued Access to        North Carolina currently have access to the Barnwell disposal facility, that
the Barnwell Facility      facility may run out of available disposal capacity around 2010. As noted
Is Not Assured             earlier, the operating licenses for 51 nuclear power plants will expire from
                           2011 through 2020 (unless extended by NRC), and the operators of 49 of
                           these plants currently rely on the Barnwell facility for the disposal of
                           low-level radioactive wastes.1 Moreover, waste generators in at least 44
                           states could lose their access to the Barnwell facility earlier than 2010 if
                           South Carolina takes action to join an existing compact or to close its
                           border to wastes outside of the state, as it is considering, or if
                           Chem-Nuclear Systems closes the facility as an unprofitable operation.


South Carolina Considers   South Carolina is considering whether to join an existing compact or take
Rejoining Compact          other steps to restrict access to the Barnwell facility. If South Carolina


                           1
                            The other two plants are located in North Carolina.



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                           joins a compact, waste generators in states outside that compact could
                           lose access to the Barnwell facility.

                           The Governor of South Carolina stated, in his January 20, 1999, “State of
                           the State” address, that the state’s withdrawal from the Southeast
                           compact had been a mistake and that the state needed to explore the
                           possibility of rejoining the compact. He added, however, that he would
                           insist on two conditions for reentering the compact. First, an agreement
                           would have to be made on a specific date after which South Carolina
                           would no longer be the national and regional landfill for nuclear wastes.
                           Second, the compact would have to be prepared to insist that North
                           Carolina (the designated host state for a new compact disposal facility)
                           meet its obligations to the compact. Then, in June 1999, the governor
                           created a task force to examine the Barnwell issue. The governor’s stated
                           goal is to get the state to stop taking radioactive wastes from around the
                           country by some means such as limiting access to the Barnwell facility to
                           waste generators within South Carolina, rejoining the Southeast compact,
                           or joining another compact.

                           In January of this year, South Carolina’s legislature began considering
                           legislation that would, if implemented, enable the state to reenter the
                           Southeast compact and restrict access to the Barnwell facility to waste
                           generators within the compact region. The consideration of this proposed
                           legislation has been suspended until the legislature reconvenes in
                           January 2000. If South Carolina eventually rejoins the compact and
                           restricts access to the Barnwell facility, then waste generators in the 33
                           states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) outside of the
                           Southeast, Northwest, and Rocky Mountain compacts would have access
                           only to the Envirocare facility. In 1998, these 33 states disposed of over
                           110,000 cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes at the Barnwell facility.


The Barnwell Facility      In addition to the potential effect of direct state action that could affect
Might Be Uneconomical to   the accessibility of the Barnwell facility to waste generators in most states,
Operate                    the facility operator is concerned that existing state taxes on the operation
                           of the facility could make the facility’s continued operation uneconomical.

                           When South Carolina reopened access to the Barnwell disposal facility in
                           1995 to all states except North Carolina, it imposed a state tax of $235 per
                           cubic foot on all wastes disposed of at the facility. Tax proceeds were
                           earmarked for higher education grants (28.5 percent), other education
                           assistance (66.5 percent), and Barnwell County (5 percent). The addition



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                        of this tax has contributed to general efforts by utilities and other users of
                        nuclear materials to reduce their disposal costs by reducing the volume of
                        low-level radioactive wastes that they generate and dispose of at the
                        Barnwell facility. As a result of the nuclear industry’s volume-reduction
                        initiatives, the volume of wastes disposed of at the Barnwell facility has
                        continued to decline, resulting in less tax revenue than the state had
                        expected.

                        Subsequently, South Carolina amended the method for computing the
                        disposal tax by, in effect, requiring Chem-Nuclear Systems to deposit at
                        least $24 million annually into the state’s higher education fund regardless
                        of the number of cubic feet of wastes disposed of at the Barnwell facility.
                        To collect sufficient taxes on disposal services to cover the minimum
                        contribution to the higher education fund in the state’s fiscal year (July 1
                        through June 30), Chem-Nuclear Systems would have to dispose of about
                        360,000 cubic feet of waste. Chem-Nuclear Systems had estimated,
                        however, that it would sell only about 160,000 cubic feet of disposal
                        services in South Carolina’s fiscal year ending on June 30, 1999. This
                        amount of disposal service, the company estimated, would leave a
                        shortfall in the minimum tax for the higher education fund amounting to
                        about $13.3 million. In the short term, therefore, Chem-Nuclear Systems
                        had to use its own funds to make up this shortfall.

                        Officials of Chem-Nuclear Systems have indicated that if they are unable
                        to raise sufficient funds in the future to pay the state’s license and disposal
                        services tax on the operation of the Barnwell facility, then the company
                        will have to either increase disposal fees or, perhaps, close the facility.


                        During the 1990s, several companies have shown interest in obtaining
Companies’ Efforts to   licenses for and developing new disposal facilities for radioactive wastes
Develop New             generated by DOE. But these initiatives have thus far not been successful.
Disposal Facilities     Had they succeeded, they would have resulted in new, licensed and
                        regulated disposal capacity that, if future conditions warranted, could
Have Not Been           have served the disposal needs of commercial generators of low-level
Successful              radioactive wastes.

                        In March 1999, DOE estimated that it may generate and dispose of over
                        300 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes (including mixed
                        low-level wastes) over about the next 70 years as it cleans up its complex
                        of nuclear facilities. Although DOE would dispose of most of these wastes
                        at its own disposal facilities, it estimated that 20 million to 40 million cubic



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feet of the wastes could be disposed of in commercial facilities. Because
of the potential market for disposing of DOE’s radioactive and hazardous
wastes, including low-level radioactive wastes, commercial waste
management companies have expressed an interest in developing
treatment, storage, and disposal facilities to serve DOE’s needs. However,
DOE’s policy is that a commercially owned and operated disposal facility
must be licensed and regulated by either NRC or an agreement state2 before
DOE will consider disposing of its radioactive wastes at the company’s
facility. At present, Envirocare of Utah is essentially the only private
company that operates a licensed facility that DOE can use to dispose of
qualifying low-level radioactive wastes, mixed low-level wastes, and
wastes from uranium and/or thorium mills.3 Since 1992, DOE has disposed
of over 3 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes and over
1.1 million cubic feet of mixed low-level wastes at the Envirocare facility.
DOE intends, however, to promote competition for its disposal services
within the private sector by, among other things, offering incentive
payments or minimum volume guarantees for new facilities that obtain NRC
or state licenses within a short period of time.

Waste Control Specialists, Inc., is one private company that wanted to
obtain a license from the state of Texas (Texas is an agreement state
under the Atomic Energy Act, as amended) to permit the company to
compete for DOE contracts for treating, storing, and disposing of DOE’s
wastes, including low-level radioactive wastes and mixed low-level wastes.
The company operates a hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal
facility on a 16,000-acre site located northwest of the Midland-Odessa area
in Andrews County, Texas. (Most of the site is in Texas, but a part of it is
in New Mexico.) Waste Control Specialists is also authorized to treat and
store, but not dispose of, mixed wastes at the facility. Under Texas law,
only the state’s radioactive waste authority may obtain a license for a
disposal facility for commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes.
Waste Control Specialists sought state legislation that would have
permitted the company to seek a state license to (1) construct and operate
a disposal facility for low-level wastes generated in the three-state Texas
compact and (2) dispose of wastes generated by DOE, including low-level
radioactive wastes and mixed low-level wastes. According to company
officials, the company’s primary interest was in meeting the conditions
that are necessary for it to compete for DOE’s waste management


2
 An agreement state is a state that has entered into a formal agreement with NRC providing for the
transfer from NRC to the state of the authority to regulate the commercial possession, use, and
disposal of radioactive materials.
3
 DOE has access to the Barnwell facility but seldom uses it because of the high disposal charges at the
facility.


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contracts. Without authority to compete for DOE’s business, according to
these officials, the company was not interested in becoming the host
facility for waste generators in the Texas compact.

A second company—Envirocare of Texas—also wants to establish a
treatment and storage facility for hazardous and radioactive wastes in
Andrews County, Texas, and, depending on studies of a site it purchased, a
disposal facility that could serve both commercial waste generators and
DOE. Unlike Waste Control Specialists, Envirocare does not have a
developed waste management facility at its site in Andrews County.
Officials of Envirocare publicly stated that the company would be willing
to serve as the host for the Texas compact or in any other way that will
meet the needs of the state and waste generators.

Neither of the initiatives in Texas was successful because in May 1999, the
state did not enact proposed legislation that would have authorized private
companies to seek a state license. The siting authority in Texas was
abolished by legislation that did pass, and the authority’s functions were
transferred to the state’s licensing agency.

Safety Kleen was interested in disposing of DOE’s radioactive wastes at the
site of a hazardous waste facility that it operates in eastern Colorado. The
company wanted to obtain a license from the state to treat, store, and
dispose of certain low-level radioactive wastes and mixed low-level wastes
generated by DOE at its Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site near
Denver. However, in May 1999, Safety Kleen announced that it would not
pursue this initiative because of local opposition as well as opposition
from the Governor of Colorado. This proposal, had it succeeded, would
not have had an immediate direct effect on commercial waste generators’
access to disposal facilities for low-level radioactive wastes and mixed
low-level wastes. It could, however, have resulted in a new, state-regulated
disposal facility for low-level radioactive and mixed low-level wastes that
could, under the right circumstances, have been made available to
commercial waste generators.

Also, on April 24, 1997, Safety Kleen announced its intent to seek a license
to dispose of low-activity, low-level radioactive wastes and naturally
occurring radioactive material, including wastes from commercial
generators, at its Grassy Mountain facility in Tooele County, Utah. The
facility is currently permitted to accept industrial and hazardous wastes
and polychlorinated biphenyls, referred to as PCBs. If successful, the
company would dispose of NORM and low-level radioactive wastes with



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                     limited concentrations of specific radionuclides at the facility in a
                     synthetically lined trench initially planned for hazardous wastes. Safety
                     Kleen submitted a siting plan application to the state of Utah and applied
                     for local planning and zoning authorization. In December 1998, the Tooele
                     County Planning Commission rejected Safety Kleen’s application for local
                     planning and zoning authorization. The company has appealed the
                     decision to the County Commission. Under Utah law, the approval of the
                     proposed facility by the governor and state legislature would also be
                     required.


                     The lack of new disposal facilities, the declining volume of commercially
Alternative          generated low-level radioactive wastes disposed of each year, and the
Approaches to        possible loss of access to the Barnwell facility raise questions about
Managing Low-Level   whether a new approach to the waste disposal issue is needed. Although
                     siting agencies in several states have shown an interest in storing low-level
Radioactive Wastes   radioactive wastes for 100 or more years as an alternative to the
                     permanent disposal of these wastes in the near future, such an approach
                     postpones, but does not replace, the need for disposal. States, compacts,
                     and industry groups have discussed several alternatives to alleviate the
                     current conditions. Among the disposal alternatives available to the
                     Congress are (1) retaining the compact approach, (2) repealing the
                     compact act to remove the compacts’ authority to impose restrictions on
                     the import and export of low-level radioactive wastes, or (3) making DOE
                     responsible for disposing of both its own and commercially generated
                     low-level radioactive wastes. Many factors have contributed to this lack of
                     success, but the key factor appears to be the willingness—or
                     unwillingness—of states to vigorously pursue their development
                     programs. To be successful, any one of these approaches would have to
                     address the willingness of any state or states to serve as host for a disposal
                     facility.


Retain the Compact   One course of action is to leave the existing compact legislation in place
Approach             and let the compacts and states address issues such as declining volume
                     and the potential lack of access to current disposal facilities.

                     Compact advocates emphasize the degree of control that states exercise
                     over low-level radioactive waste issues and the flexibility that the compact
                     legislation provides for responding to changing circumstances. For
                     example, compacts are free to regulate the import and/or export of
                     low-level radioactive wastes within their region for treatment, storage, or



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                     disposal and to realign themselves as circumstances, such as the declining
                     volume of wastes, may warrant. The Northwest compact illustrates these
                     features of compacts. The Northwest compact entered into a contract with
                     the Rocky Mountain compact to dispose of low-level radioactive wastes
                     generated in the latter region at the Richland facility. The Northwest
                     compact also acquiesced in the development and operation of the
                     Envirocare of Utah disposal facility. The compact recognized that the
                     Envirocare facility had the support of the state of Utah—a member of the
                     compact—and that the facility fulfilled a need for disposal services for
                     high-volume, low-activity radioactive wastes. Thus, supporters of this
                     approach point out, the compact system does not preclude private
                     development of new disposal facilities.

                     As discussed earlier, however, after collectively spending about
                     $600 million, not one of the compacts has successfully developed a new
                     disposal facility for low-level radioactive wastes. This history, coupled
                     with the declining volume of wastes, raises questions about whether
                     compacts could economically provide new disposal facilities in the
                     absence of some merging and/or realignment of compacts. Others, on the
                     other hand, point out that pending legal action against designated host
                     states, such as Nebraska, that have not developed new disposal facilities,
                     may prove, in the long run, the best means to ensure that these states
                     discharge their responsibilities under the compact acts.


Repeal the Compact   Because none of the compacts have developed, or are attempting to
Legislation          develop, new disposal facilities, some argue for repealing the compact acts
                     so that private industry could more readily develop and operate disposal
                     facilities in response to market conditions. This approach would remove
                     some of the direct control that the compact approach provides states over
                     the process of developing and operating disposal facilities for low-level
                     radioactive wastes. Successfully implementing this approach, however,
                     would still depend, to a large extent, on the willingness of prospective host
                     states to accept these facilities.

                     Proponents of a market-driven approach point out that 10 regional
                     compacts are too many to address the amount of commercially generated
                     low-level radioactive wastes that is now being disposed of. Abolishing the
                     compacts would result in a single national market open to commercial
                     disposal firms. Moreover, the market for disposal services would be larger
                     when considering DOE’s estimated need for commercial disposal services.
                     In this regard, the recent initiatives by Waste Control Specialists,



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                           Envirocare, and Safety Kleen in developing licensed facilities for disposing
                           of low-level radioactive wastes demonstrate commercial interest in the
                           combined commercial and DOE markets for disposal services.

                           This approach, however, appears to risk the early loss of existing disposal
                           capacity before replacement disposal capacity comes on line. For
                           example, the state of Washington supports the compact approach and has
                           stated that it probably would close the Richland facility if it lost the right
                           to exclude out-of-region wastes provided by the compact legislation. At a
                           minimum, the state could decline to renew US Ecology’s lease on the
                           Richland disposal site when the lease expires in mid-2005. Also, South
                           Carolina, which now wants to exercise greater control over the Barnwell
                           facility’s disposal operations, could take similar action regarding that
                           facility.

                           Finally, if states’ roles in developing new disposal facilities are limited to
                           licensing and regulating new facilities proposed by private companies,
                           states dissatisfied with this more limited role might erect administrative
                           barriers to new disposal facilities within their borders. This phenomenon
                           is illustrated in the recent experiences in Colorado, Texas, and Utah, in
                           which commercial waste management companies were unsuccessful in
                           obtaining political and/or regulatory approvals from state and/or local
                           governments for their proposed new disposal facilities.


Make DOE Responsible for   Another alternative approach to disposing of commercially generated
Disposing of Commercial    low-level radioactive waste is directing DOE to dispose of commercially
Waste                      generated wastes. This approach is supported by those who believe that
                           state governments would successfully frustrate attempts to develop new
                           disposal facilities under the compact and free market approaches
                           discussed above. They also point to the relatively small volume that would
                           be added to DOE’s waste disposal operations. Over the 10-year period
                           ending in 1998, for example, DOE estimates that it disposed of over
                           2.3 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes per year at its six
                           operating disposal sites. In contrast, a total of less than 350,000 cubic feet
                           of wastes was disposed of at the Barnwell and Richland facilities in 1998,
                           and a little more than 1 million cubic feet of slightly contaminated wastes
                           was disposed of in that year at the Envirocare of Utah facility.

                           Two of DOE’s six disposal facilities for low-level radioactive
                           wastes—facilities that are located on the Hanford site and the Nevada Test
                           Site—currently accept low-level radioactive wastes from other DOE



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facilities.4 Both facilities have large unused capacities. At Hanford, the
existing disposal facility is expected to be capable of disposing of about
71 million cubic feet of these wastes, or about seven times the amount that
DOE expects to dispose of at that facility over approximately the next 70
years. The disposal facility on DOE’s Nevada Test Site has over 100 million
cubic feet of disposal capacity, and DOE expects to use only about
17 million cubic feet of this capacity for the disposal of its own low-level
radioactive wastes. Both of these disposal facilities are also capable of
disposing of mixed low-level wastes. Moreover, disposal capabilities can
be expanded at both locations. It is clear, therefore, that these two
disposal facilities have the capacity to accept commercial low-level
radioactive wastes in addition to DOE’s own wastes. Also, there is
precedent for making DOE responsible for disposing of commercial
radioactive wastes. For example, the 1985 compact act made DOE
responsible for disposing of greater-than-class-C low-level radioactive
wastes. In addition, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended in
1987, made DOE responsible for disposing of spent fuel from commercial
nuclear power plants in a geologic repository.

There are, however, drawbacks associated with this approach. In
particular, there does not appear to be any incentive for the most likely
affected states—Nevada and Washington—to accept this approach. These
two states host DOE’s Nevada Test Site and Hanford Site, respectively,
which contain the only two of DOE’s six disposal facilities that generally
dispose of low-level radioactive wastes generated at other DOE facilities.
The objections of the (then) governors of these two states (and South
Carolina) to bearing what they viewed as an unfair burden for disposing of
commercial low-level radioactive wastes led to the compact acts. At both
sites, moreover, DOE and the respective state governments are addressing
numerous issues pertaining to cleaning up the environmental legacy of the
nuclear weapons program. For example, Nevada officials anticipate that,
as DOE continues to clean up these facilities, the Department will rely more
and more on the Nevada Test Site to dispose of various radiological and
hazardous wastes. A major objective of Nevada’s cleanup negotiations
with DOE, therefore, is to ensure that the Department does not transport
wastes through the greater Las Vegas Valley en route to the Nevada Test
Site.

In general, these states have been opposed to the disposal of wastes from
other DOE nuclear facilities and can be expected to oppose the disposal of
commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes at these sites.

4
 DOE’s Savannah River site accepts low-level radioactive wastes from the Navy’s nuclear operations.



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Neither state, for example, has authorized DOE to dispose of mixed
low-level wastes generated outside of their respective state at either the
Nevada Test Site or the Hanford site. DOE appeared to have recognized the
sensitivity of the issue of state acceptance of the additional disposal of
radioactive wastes when it declined a request by an organization of users
of radioactive materials in California to dispose of their low-level
radioactive wastes at DOE’s Nevada and Hanford facilities. The users
organization had requested access to these disposal facilities on behalf of
California’s generators of low-level radioactive wastes, pending resolution
of the state of California’s request to purchase the federally owned site in
Ward Valley for use as a waste disposal facility. DOE denied the users
organization’s request on the basis of equity considerations in Nevada and
Washington.

For at least 10 years, the state of Nevada has also vigorously opposed the
possible use of Yucca Mountain for a repository for spent fuel and other
highly radioactive wastes. The 1987 amendments to the nuclear waste act
authorized the Secretary of Energy to enter into an agreement with
Nevada concerning a repository under which the state could receive (1) an
initial payment of $10 million upon the execution of the agreement,
(2) subsequent payments of $10 million each year prior to DOE’s first
receipt of spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, and (3) annual payments of
$20 million thereafter until the repository’s closure. In return, Nevada
would, among other things, be required to waive its right, under the 1982
waste act, to disapprove of (subject to a congressional override) a formal
recommendation by the federal government that Yucca Mountain be
designated as a site for a geologic repository. The state, however, did not
pursue such an agreement. In fact, in 1989, the state enacted legislation,
subsequently overturned in federal court, making it illegal to store
high-level radioactive wastes in Nevada. In that same year, the Nevada
legislature enacted, and the governor approved, resolutions (1) opposing
the placement of a high-level radioactive waste repository anywhere in the
state and (2) prohibiting the establishment of a repository at Yucca
Mountain.

Moreover, having DOE dispose of commercially generated low-level
radioactive wastes could adversely affect the Department’s negotiations
with states and other interested parties on acceptable solutions to cleanup
problems throughout DOE’s complex of nuclear facilities. DOE has invested
substantial time and resources in negotiating acceptable arrangements for
the management of its wastes with the states that host DOE’s nuclear
facilities. These efforts have been in response to the requirements of the



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Federal Facility Compliance Act and commitments made to governors,
including environmental impact analyses at each site. Also included in
these efforts have been substantial negotiations with many publics ranging
from local citizen advisory boards to the National Governors’ Association.
Imposing the additional requirement that DOE dispose of commercially
generated low-level radioactive wastes at one or more of these DOE
facilities could negatively affect DOE’s progress in negotiating cleanup
arrangements with states and other interested parties.

Assigning DOE the responsibility for disposing of commercially generated
low-level radioactive wastes would impose an additional burden on a
federal Department that has often been criticized by states and other
interested parties for what they have characterized as its poor
performance in cleaning up its complex of nuclear facilities. And finally,
DOE self-regulates its own disposal operations, whereas either NRC or an
agreement state regulates the disposal of commercially generated
low-level radioactive wastes. Resolving questions about the responsibility
for the regulation of waste disposal operations would, therefore, be
essential to any effort to assign DOE the responsibility for disposing of
commercially generated wastes.




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Appendix I

State Compacts’ and Unaffiliated States’
Experiences Under the Compact Acts

                      The Appalachian States Low-Level Waste Compact Act of 1985 permitted
Appalachian Compact   Pennsylvania to establish a regional low-level radioactive waste disposal
                      site for the Appalachian compact states of Delaware, Maryland,
                      Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Pennsylvania was selected as the host
                      state because it generates the largest amount of wastes within the
                      compact. In 1990, Chem-Nuclear Systems, LLC signed an agreement, called
                      the “Main Agreement,” with the Pennsylvania Department of
                      Environmental Protection to site, design, construct, operate, close, and
                      decommission a regional low-level waste disposal facility for the compact.
                      In March 1996, Pennsylvania began a voluntary siting process. The
                      volunteer process empowered municipalities in Pennsylvania to make
                      their own choices about hosting a facility. From March 1996 through
                      April 1998, staff of the contractor that the state selected traveled more
                      than 90,000 miles statewide and participated in more than 340 outreach
                      meetings. Yet, no municipality expressed interest in hosting a low-level
                      waste disposal facility. On December 31, 1998, Pennsylvania’s Department
                      of Environmental Protection suspended the low-level radioactive waste
                      disposal facility-siting project.1

                      According to the department, two factors that drove the need for a
                      low-level waste disposal facility had changed dramatically. First, as of the
                      end of 1998, it appeared that existing disposal capacity at the Barnwell and
                      Envirocare disposal facilities could be available to low-level waste
                      generators in Pennsylvania for at least 25 years. In addition, volumes of
                      low-level radioactive wastes generated in Pennsylvania have decreased
                      from more than 225,000 cubic feet in 1991 to less than 30,000 cubic feet in
                      1997. According to the department, the Main Agreement between
                      Chem-Nuclear Systems and the state will be amended so that the project
                      can be resumed, if needed. Additionally, the Appalachian compact
                      commission approved a $200,000 “restart fund” for the commission in the
                      event that the siting process begins again.


                      In 1982, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Nebraska formed the
Central Interstate    Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission to provide for
Compact               low-level radioactive waste disposal within their borders. In 1987, the
                      Commission chose Nebraska as its host state and US Ecology as the
                      developer of the compact’s low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.
                      Nebraska’s governor at that time expressed reservations about the state’s
                      role but committed the state to honoring its commitment under the

                      1
                       The Department of Environmental Protection suspended the project after discussing the issue with
                      the Low-Level Waste Advisory Committee and the Appalachian compact commission.



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compact agreement. US Ecology submitted a license application to
Nebraska in 1990. Since then, efforts to license a site in Nebraska have
been challenged and delayed.

From 1993 through 1998, Nebraska, or a closely related political
subdivision, brought five lawsuits against the Commission or US Ecology.
Nebraska lost all five cases, whereby the courts found that, in general, all
the suits lacked merit. In one case, for example, the court concluded that
“Governor Nelson, the State of Nebraska and Plaintiffs in this case were
‘closely related,’ that there appeared to be a ‘coordinated litigation
strategy,’ and the State of Nebraska and its constituent political bodies. .
.are not entitled to wage what might be characterized as hit-and-run
guerilla warfare by filing multiple lawsuits on the same claim in order to
frustrate performance of the Compact.”2

In January 1993, Nebraska’s regulatory agency announced its intent to
deny a license for the proposed disposal facility because the site contained
wetlands. In October 1993, after the developer redesigned the boundaries
of the site and eliminated the disputed wetlands area, the regulatory
agency notified the developer that the agency would withdraw its intent to
deny the license.

In December 1998, Nebraska denied US Ecology’s application to construct
a disposal facility for commercial low-level radioactive wastes on a site in
Boyd County, Nebraska. The state based its decision on groundwater
issues, the need for continuing active maintenance after the site’s closure,
and US Ecology’s financial qualifications. On January 15, 1999, US Ecology
filed a petition with the state to reverse Nebraska’s license denial.
According to the petition, the denial is arbitrary and capricious, is based
on an unreasonable interpretation of statutes and regulations, and is an
abuse of discretion that precludes any site from being licensed in
Nebraska. The company alleged that the decision to deny the license
application was based on erroneous interpretations of data and
regulations and was politically influenced by the former state governor.

Prior to the petition, five utilities filed suit in the U.S. district court
challenging actions taken by Nebraska and its officials in reviewing US
Ecology’s license application.3 The suit alleged, among other things, that
Nebraska regulators violated a statutory and contractual obligation to

2
 County of Boyd v US Ecology, 858 F Supp. 960 (D. Neb. 1994).
3
Later, the Central Compact Commission, which was originally named as a defendant in the suit, filed a
motion realigning itself as a plaintiff. Also, US Ecology became a plaintiff in the lawsuit.



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                      exercise ”good faith” in their review of the license application and that
                      they exhibited bias or prejudice in their review. The plaintiffs sought,
                      among other things, the removal of Nebraska from the licensing process,
                      damages, and a declaration that Nebraska violated the compact
                      agreement.

                      On April 16, 1999, the US district court issued a preliminary injunction
                      against Nebraska and others, finding that there is good reason to think that
                      Nebraska’s license denial was “politically preordained.” The court
                      concluded that the Commission will likely win on the merits of the case
                      and that Nebraska had acted in bad faith and therefore violated the
                      compact agreement The court ruled that there is strong evidence of bad
                      faith from Nebraska in the licensing process. The following is some of the
                      evidence of Nebraska’s bad faith cited by the court:

                  •   The former governor’s campaign promise to kill the disposal facility and
                      questionable behavior by his subordinates in an apparent effort to ensure
                      that his political promise be carried out.
                  •   The refusal of the former governor’s regulator to adopt a budget and
                      timetable, potentially resulting in the waste of 8 years of work and
                      $74 million.
                  •   Nebraska’s 1993 and 1998 decisions to deny the license application.
                  •   Repeated litigation without merit in the district court.4

                      On May 6, 1999, Nebraska’s legislature passed a bill to remove the state
                      from the Central Interstate compact, and on May 12, 1999, the governor
                      signed the bill into law. The new law takes effect on August 29, 1999. The
                      law authorizes Nebraska’s governor to notify the governors of the other
                      states belonging to the compact that Nebraska is withdrawing from the
                      compact. Under the terms of the compact agreement, withdrawals
                      generally do not take effect until 5 years from the date of such notification.


                      In 1984, Illinois and Kentucky formed the Central Midwest compact to
Central Midwest       develop and implement a solution to low-level radioactive waste disposal
Compact               issues. In 1987, the compact designated Illinois as the host state for the
                      compact’s disposal facility because Illinois produced 98 percent of the
                      region’s low-level radioactive wastes. By the early 1990s, a site for the
                      development of a low-level waste disposal facility had been selected near
                      Martinsville, the site was studied, a facility had been designed, and the
                      license application was under review by the state. However, in 1989,

                      4
                       Entergy Arkansas, Inc. v Nebraska, __ F Supp.2d—, 1999 WL 225849, at 18 (D. Neb. 1999).



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because of questions about the process for selecting a new site for a
disposal facility and concerns about the suitability of a proposed site, the
Governor of Illinois and the state’s legislature created an independent
commission to examine the safety of the proposed site. In 1992, the
commission found the site unacceptable, rejecting the conclusions of the
state agency that had spent 8 years and about $85 million in selecting and
studying the site.

Since then, the state established a new siting process for developing a
regional disposal facility in Illinois. The land for a disposal facility site
must be volunteered by both its owner and the appropriate municipality or
county government. According to the director of Illinois’ Department of
Nuclear Safety, however, the state has “abated but not suspended or
halted” its siting efforts because of (1) the continued availability of
disposal capacity for the generators of low-level radioactive wastes in
Illinois, (2) uncertainties inherent in the national low-level radioactive
waste situation, and (3) concerns over the decline in waste volume and its
effect on disposal costs. Waste generators in the state are able to dispose
of wastes in South Carolina and Utah, and if, when, and how this will
change is uncertain.

The state is also concerned that a disposal facility is not economical,
considering today’s waste volumes. The Illinois Department of Nuclear
Safety, the state’s low-level waste generators, and Chem-Nuclear Systems
LLC (the state’s disposal facility developer) recognized that the decline in
waste volumes might influence the economic viability of the planned
regional disposal facility. For example, wastes generated in Illinois
declined from over 200,000 cubic feet shipped in 1986 to less than 50,000
cubic feet in 1997. As a result, the state and Chem-Nuclear developed an
economic model as a tool to evaluate various development strategies.5 The
analyses using this model indicated that developing the planned disposal
facility would not be economically viable because of the expected lower
volume of wastes. The analyses also showed that the facility would not
become economically viable until the decommissioning of nuclear power
plants in the state increases the amount of low-level wastes generated for
disposal. According to the Commonwealth Edison Company—Illinois’
major low-level radioactive waste generator—developing a disposal
facility in the 2010 time frame makes sense because that is when an



5
 The model included parameters such as waste-volume projections, capital construction costs, the
period of recouping capital investment, annual operating expense, interest rates, and profit that could
be varied, depending on the development scenario being considered.



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                     extensive decommissioning period will begin for some of its 13 nuclear
                     power plants.6

                     The loss of access to disposal capacity at existing facilities would
                     influence how the state manages its low-level radioactive wastes.
                     According to a state official, however, the loss of capacity does not mean
                     that the state would accelerate the siting and development of a disposal
                     facility in Illinois. Absent large waste volumes from decommissioning the
                     nuclear power stations, the development of a facility in the state remains
                     cost prohibitive.

                     In summary, the state of Illinois believes that the changes that have
                     occurred over the past several years strongly suggest that the need to
                     develop a disposal facility for commercially generated low-level
                     radioactive wastes in Illinois should be reevaluated. These changes
                     included (1) the continued availability of disposal capacity outside of
                     Illinois, (2) a significant reduction in the volume of low-level radioactive
                     wastes being generated in Illinois, (3) the nuclear utilities’ decisions not to
                     seek an extension to the life of their nuclear plants nor to delay
                     decommissioning following the termination of the plants’ operating
                     licenses, and (4) the desire to improve the site selection process.


                     In October 1982, a document outlining the formal provisions of the
Midwest Interstate   Midwest compact was completed. After the document’s enactment by the
Compact              legislatures and approval by the governors of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan,
                     Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the Congress consented to the
                     compact in 1985. The seven states agreed that each state would take its
                     turn in hosting a disposal facility. The states decided that the host state
                     was responsible for locating, designing, constructing, and operating the
                     facility. In 1987, Michigan was chosen to host the first low-level waste
                     disposal facility because it was projected to generate the most low-level
                     wastes during the 20-year operating period of the first disposal facility.
                     Ohio was projected to be the second largest generator and was chosen as
                     the first alternate host state.

                     The Midwest Compact agreement made the selected host responsible for
                     choosing possible locations for a low-level radioactive waste disposal
                     facility within the state’s borders. The Michigan low-level radioactive
                     waste authority began a facility-siting process in 1987. By October 1989,
                     the authority had designated three areas as potentially suitable for siting a

                     6
                      Commonwealth Edison shipped about 92 percent of Illinois’ low-level radioactive waste in 1997.



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                       disposal facility. Less than 1 year later, however, the authority had
                       eliminated all three areas from consideration. The Midwest compact
                       decided that Michigan had unreasonable criteria that essentially precluded
                       the state from finding a suitable site. In July 1991, the compact voted to
                       expel Michigan for not acting in good faith to honor a binding contractual
                       obligation to find a waste disposal site in Michigan. As a first alternate,
                       Ohio became the selected host state for the compact’s first regional
                       disposal facility for low-level radioactive wastes.

                       On June 26, 1997, the Midwest Interstate Compact Commission noted that
                       it was at a critical point immediately prior to committing considerable
                       funds to a site selection process in Ohio. At that time, the Commission
                       halted development activities for a regional low-level radioactive waste
                       disposal facility. The Commission also relieved Ohio of its host state
                       designation and obligation to find a location for a regional disposal facility
                       and develop it. The commission cited several reasons for its decision.
                       First, low-level waste generators in the compact region had successfully
                       instituted waste management and treatment practices (e.g., waste
                       minimization, compaction, incineration, and evaporation) that continue to
                       dramatically reduce the amount of wastes annually shipped to disposal
                       facilities. For example, wastes decreased from a high of 114,700 cubic feet
                       in 1989, to 20,000 cubic feet in 1996. Second, the estimated cost of new
                       disposal facilities has risen significantly and has ranged from $105 million
                       to $216 million, exclusive of operating costs. Third, Midwest compact
                       generators had access to existing low-level radioactive waste disposal
                       facilities that appear to have sufficient capacity to accept wastes for a
                       lengthy period of time. Unexpected events involving existing, privately
                       operated disposal facilities in South Carolina, Utah, and possibly other
                       locations have created disincentives to develop new disposal capacity.


                       The Congress ratified the Northeast Interstate Compact in 1985. Soon
Northeast Interstate   thereafter, two of the original four member states—Delaware and West
Compact                Virginia—joined the Appalachian compact, and the remaining member
                       states—Connecticut and New Jersey—were designated as dual host states.
                       As dual hosts, each state is responsible for establishing the capacity to
                       manage the low-level radioactive wastes generated within its borders.
                       Both Connecticut and New Jersey developed voluntary siting plans in
                       which towns or regional groups are asked to host the state’s low-level
                       radioactive waste disposal facility.




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Connecticut carried out a statewide screening effort in the early 1990s to
identify candidate sites for a disposal facility. Although this effort led to
the identification of three candidate sites, vehement public and political
protest over the selection of these candidate sites in 1992 led the state’s
legislature to pass and the governor to sign legislation terminating this
siting effort. Connecticut has placed its voluntary siting process on hold.
According to the Northeast Interstate Compact’s regional management
plan, the reopening of the Barnwell, South Carolina, facility and the
availability of the Envirocare facility in Utah for some types of low-level
radioactive wastes made disposal possible for waste generators in
Connecticut. This availability of out-of-state disposal reduced the urgency
for the development of in-state capacity and gave the state’s siting
agency—the Connecticut Hazardous Waste Management Service—an
opportunity to consider a long-term storage concept, called “assured
isolation,” as an alternative to developing a disposal facility.

Proponents of the assured isolation concept believe that the concept can
be a solution to the issue of the long-term management of commercially
generated low-level radioactive wastes. In their view, assured isolation
facilities could be safely operated at more locations than traditional
disposal sites and allow them to be located at existing nuclear facilities.
They also believe that the ability to continually inspect the structural
integrity of the facilities might help reduce public concerns over the
facilities’ long-term performance. Assured isolation for the foreseeable
future might have the added benefit of permitting the relatively short-lived
low-level radioactive wastes to decay during their isolation and then be
recycled or disposed of as normal trash.

Although storage in an assured isolation facility is not prohibited by law,
there are legal concerns about whether storage for a period of 100 to 300
years complies with the requirement for permanent isolation in the
Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985. According
to a draft legal study prepared for Connecticut’s Hazardous Waste
Management Service,7 compliance with the 1985 act depends on, among
other things, an interpretation of the act’s requirement that compacts
“provide for” the disposal of low-level radioactive wastes generated
within their respective regions. According to the study, there is no known
case law that speaks to this precise issue. The study also concludes that
the compact probably provides an independent source of authority for the


7
 The Connecticut Hazardous Waste Management Service commissioned the analysis of certain legal
issues surrounding the concept of assured isolation for the management of low-level radioactive
wastes in Connecticut.



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                    management of the low-level radioactive wastes, including the use of an
                    assured isolation facility.

                    Nevertheless, long-term storage is an interim, rather than final, solution to
                    the issue of the management of commercial low-level radioactive wastes.
                    Eventually, a permanent solution for longer-lived wastes—either
                    permanent disposal or continued, monitored storage—would be required.
                    Also, critics of the concept are uncomfortable with the extensive reliance
                    on human maintenance required to ensure the successful isolation of the
                    waste for 100 or more years and doubt that the proposal would alleviate
                    public concerns over the management and disposal of low-level
                    radioactive wastes.

                    Moreover, critics argue that it may be difficult to make adequate
                    arrangements to ensure that sufficient funds are available for assured
                    isolation followed by the recovery and permanent disposal of some or all
                    of the wastes in a disposal facility. The director of Connecticut’s low-level
                    radioactive waste program, however, disagrees with this view. In the
                    director’s opinion, uncertainty over funds for institutional control and
                    long-term liability for 100 or more years into the future would be no higher
                    for storage facilities than for disposal facilities. In addition, the director
                    said, licenses for long-term storage facilities would not be issued unless
                    the license applicants satisfactorily demonstrated that adequate
                    arrangements had been made to ensure that sufficient funds would be
                    available.

                    In 1998, the New Jersey siting board suspended the siting process in New
                    Jersey. In taking this action, the board noted the ongoing efforts of
                    low-level radioactive waste generators in the state to minimize the volume
                    of wastes requiring disposal, the continuing availability of out-of-state
                    disposal, and the capacity for on-site storage over the short term, should
                    the Barnwell facility be closed to out-of-state wastes. According to the
                    Northeast compact, New Jersey’s siting board remains active and is
                    working with the compact and Connecticut to monitor the national
                    situation. If necessary, according to the compact, the siting board is ready
                    to restart the siting process.


                    The eight-member Northwest compact, comprising the states of Alaska,
Northwest Compact   Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, was
                    established in 1981 and ratified by the Congress in 1985. The compact’s
                    regional disposal facility is located on the Department of Energy’s (DOE)



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                    Hanford site on 100 acres of land subleased by US Ecology from the state
                    of Washington. US Ecology’s contract with Washington expires on July 29,
                    2005.


                    The Rocky Mountain compact—consisting of Colorado, Nevada, and New
Rocky Mountain      Mexico—was established in 1983 and ratified by the Congress in 1985. The
Compact             Rocky Mountain Low-Level Radioactive Waste Board, which governs the
                    compact, has a contract with the Northwest compact and the state of
                    Washington to dispose of the compact’s wastes at the Northwest
                    compact’s Richland regional disposal facility.


                    In 1983, the eight states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North
Southeast Compact   Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia entered into a
                    cooperative agreement to form the Southeast compact. The compact,
                    which was ratified by the Congress in 1985, allows its member states to
                    exclude out-of-region wastes from disposal at in-region facilities. South
                    Carolina was to serve as the compact’s first host state, and the facility at
                    Barnwell was scheduled to close at the end of 1992.

                    In 1986, the compact selected North Carolina as the second host state,
                    which obligated the state to develop a facility for the region’s low-level
                    wastes for a period of 20 years. The compact required that the facility be
                    developed no later than 1991 and gave North Carolina the responsibility
                    for financing, siting, and licensing the facility. North Carolina put a siting
                    process in place, and, in late 1992, the state authority submitted a license
                    application to the North Carolina Division of Radiation Protection for a
                    site in Wake County. However, the state has not issued a license to
                    construct and operate the planned facility.

                    Barnwell served as the original disposal facility for waste generators in all
                    of the compact’s original eight states until 1995, when South Carolina
                    withdrew from the compact. South Carolina prohibited the generators of
                    low-level wastes in North Carolina from disposing of their wastes at the
                    Barnwell facility because, in South Carolina’s view, North Carolina was
                    not acting in good faith to develop a new facility. The prohibition has not
                    been challenged in court and remains in force.

                    The Southeast compact agreement provides that each host state must pay
                    to develop its facility and that the compact commission is not responsible
                    for these costs. However, much of the cost of selecting and licensing the



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proposed site in North Carolina was provided voluntarily by the compact
commission. The funds were collected by the compact in the form of fees
on the wastes disposed of at the Barnwell facility through 1995. However,
after South Carolina withdrew from the compact, the Southeast compact
was left without this source of funding. North Carolina reduced, and
eventually stopped, its licensing effort because of what it characterized as
a lack of funds. According to the Southeast Compact Commission, the
commission was not willing to provide more funds unless North Carolina
would commit to building a disposal facility. Such a commitment was
requested but never provided.

In 1997, a group composed of most of the compact region’s utilities made a
proposal under which the compact and regional waste generators would
provide necessary funding in exchange for certain conditions and
guarantees. The compact agreed to the proposal in concept and made
further funding by the compact contingent on North Carolina’s agreement
in principle to the proposal or to an alternative proposal acceptable to the
group. North Carolina did not support the proposal because, among other
things, the proposal would require that the state assume the responsibility
for paying the debt that would be created by accepting funds from the
compact and regional waste generators to develop the proposed disposal
facility.

In December 1997, North Carolina shut down its low-level waste-siting
project, pending the Southeast compact’s reversal of its funding position
or receipt of other instructions from the state legislature. Instead, the
state’s siting authority sought the legislature’s approval to begin reviewing
a long-term storage option as a possible alternative for developing the
previously planned disposal facility. This storage approach would permit
the disposal of waste materials contaminated with relatively short-lived
radionuclides as normal trash following a storage period. Waste materials
contaminated with longer-lived radionuclides would eventually be
disposed of in a much smaller disposal facility than the state had planned
to develop for the Southeast compact.

On April 28, 1999, the Southeast compact’s commission notified officials of
North Carolina that the state was in violation of compact laws and
requested a written plan and schedule from the state that would provide a
disposal facility for the region and would return the state to compliance
with the law. As of June 1999, North Carolina had not responded.
Therefore, compact commissioners from Florida and Tennessee filed a
complaint against North Carolina for not fulfilling its obligations to the



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               compact, as a designated host state, to provide a disposal facility for the
               Southeast compact. The complaint recommended that the commission
               impose several sanctions, including requiring the return of almost
               $80 million, plus interest, in funds provided by the commission to the state
               and requiring North Carolina to store all waste from the region until a new
               regional facility is provided.

               On July 27, 1999, the “sanctions committee” of the Southeast compact
               voted unanimously to recommend to the compact’s commission the
               initiation of a formal inquiry to determine if a violation of commission law
               had occurred and, if so, what sanctions should be applied. The
               commission addressed this issue at its August 19, 1999, meeting. One day
               prior to the sanctions committee’s recommendation, the State of North
               Carolina enacted legislation withdrawing the state from the Southeast
               compact.8 The legislation also repealed related statutes and, among other
               things, directed the state’s Radiation Protection Commission to (1) review
               the availability and adequacy of facilities for the management of low-level
               radioactive wastes produced by waste generators in North Carolina and
               (2) formulate, by May 15, 2000, a recommended plan for complying with
               the state’s responsibilities under the compact acts.


               In 1985, California named US Ecology its license designee and authorized
Southwestern   the company to (1) screen potential sites for a disposal facility for waste
Compact        generators within the state, (2) identify a candidate site, (3) investigate the
               site’s suitability, and (4) construct and operate the facility as licensed and
               regulated by the state. In 1987, California entered into a compact with
               Arizona, North Dakota, and South Dakota in which California agreed to
               develop and operate a disposal facility that would serve the needs of waste
               generators in those four states. After US Ecology evaluated potential sites,
               a 1,000-acre site in Ward Valley, California, was selected for a disposal
               facility. However, the construction of the facility depends on the
               Department of the Interior’s transfer of the land to the state because the
               site is on federally owned land in the Mojave Desert.

               To date, Interior has not transferred the land. A December 1995 electronic
               message from a member of the White House’s Council on Environmental
               Quality illustrates that while Interior believed the Ward Valley site to be
               safe, political considerations may have prevented transferring the land to
               California. The message states, in part, that California’s position that
               low-level radioactive wastes were piling up in universities, hospitals, and

               8
                General Assembly of North Carolina Session Law 1999-0357, July 26, 1999.



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other places unfit for storage was “mostly legitimate.” In addition, the
message continues, Interior officials, relying on a National Academy of
Sciences analysis9 believed that the site can be operated and used with
complete safety and that Interior would like to move ahead with the land
transfer. The message goes on to state, however, that “they [Interior]
believe that, as a political matter, the Administration simply cannot of its
own volition agree to hand the site over in exchange for a check and an
unpopular governor’s promise to do the right thing.”

In July 1997, we reported on Interior’s actions on California’s request to
purchase the Ward Valley site so that the state could build the facility.10
We concluded that Interior had been unwilling to accept California’s
explicit authority and findings concerning radiological safety as adequate
to permit the Department to decide on the proposed land transfer. Instead,
Interior decided that it must independently determine if the site is suitable
for a disposal facility. California and US Ecology argue that these issues
are outside Interior’s authority and expertise and that Interior does not
have the authority to independently determine if Ward Valley is suitable.
Their position is that the regulation of radiological safety issues is the
state’s responsibility because of the state’s agreement with the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) under the Atomic Energy Act.

In addition, as we reported in 1997, most of the substantive issues that the
public raised to Interior for its consideration had already been addressed
by California and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. Subsequent new
information, such as the National Academy of Sciences’ report, generally
favors the proposed facility.

At that time, actions concerning the Ward Valley transfer were pending
before two separate federal courts. On March 31, 1999, the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia issued an order in favor of the federal
government in consolidated lawsuits concerning the proposed Ward Valley
site.11 The actions, which were filed by the state of California and US
Ecology in January 1997, sought to compel Interior to transfer to the state
the federal land on which the site is located. The court, however, declined
to order the Secretary to proceed with the transfer because he is not


9
 The National Academy of Sciences issued a report on Ward Valley issues in May 1995.
10
 Radioactive Waste: Interior’s Continuing Review of the Proposed Transfer of the Ward Valley Waste
Site (GAO/RCED-97-184, July 15, 1997).
11
   California Department of Health Services v. Babbitt, __ F. Supp.2d __, 1999 U.S. Dist. Lexis 5899 (D.
DC, 1999).



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                required to do so under federal law.12 On June 2, 1999, the Governor of
                California announced that the state would not appeal the Ward Valley
                decision. In addition, separate lawsuits concerning the site remain pending
                before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In these suits, California and US
                Ecology are pursuing financial relief for breach of contract claims related
                to the land transfer request.

                In March 1999, the Secretary of the Interior wrote to the Governor of
                California to explore alternatives to the proposed land transfer, which
                would resolve the situation and potentially settle pending litigation. The
                Secretary said that the steps necessary to conclude the action would be
                substantial. Some of the necessary actions include (1) an extensive testing
                and analysis of tritium and related substances at the site, (2) a
                comprehensive supplemental environmental impact statement, and (3) a
                resolution of whether the California state agency seeking to purchase the
                Ward Valley land has the authority to do so. On June 2, 1999, the Governor
                announced that he had proposed that the president of the University of
                California chair an advisory group charged with exploring ways to find
                workable alternatives for California’s low-level radioactive waste disposal.
                As of November 1998, almost $93 million had been spent to develop a
                low-level radioactive waste disposal site in California.


                In September 1998, the Congress passed, and the President signed,
Texas Compact   legislation approving the Texas compact, which includes the states of
                Maine, Texas, and Vermont. The compact legislation designated Texas as
                the host state. However, the search for a low-level waste disposal facility
                site began in 1981 when the Texas legislature created a disposal authority
                to finance, construct, operate, and decommission a waste disposal facility
                for low-level radioactive wastes produced in Texas.

                By 1987, the authority had identified several possible sites in Hudspeth
                County, Texas. In 1992, the authority selected a site within the county and
                submitted an application to a state licensing commission. However, the
                Texas licensing commission subsequently denied the license application
                for the candidate site. The commission cited uncertainties about a
                geologic fault beneath the site and socioeconomic concerns, despite the
                fact that the commission’s staff had recommended approval on the basis
                of its environmental and safety analysis. The analysis had found that
                “issuance of a license for the proposed project will not pose an


                12
                 Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a tract of public lands may be sold where the
                Secretary determines that the sale of the tract will serve important public objectives.



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                      unacceptable risk to public health and safety or cause a long-term
                      detrimental impact on the environment.” The program authority filed a
                      motion for rehearing, but the motion was overruled in December 1998.

                      Texas’ low-level radioactive waste authority, having been denied a
                      disposal license, began considering new options for siting, including
                      developing an assured isolation facility for the long-term storage of
                      commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes. In response to a
                      question on whether a law requiring the development of a facility for
                      assured isolation of wastes would satisfy the state’s compact obligations,
                      the state’s attorney general concluded that such a facility would comply
                      with the state’s obligations to “manage and provide for” the disposal of
                      low-level radioactive wastes generated within the compact. However, the
                      attorney general also concluded that a facility for the assured isolation of
                      wastes would not currently satisfy the state’s obligation to “permanently
                      dispose of” these wastes. In late 1998, the disposal authority estimated
                      that about 61,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste is currently stored in that
                      state, of which, about 58,000 cubic feet was generated by and is stored by
                      18 industrial users of radioactive materials.

                      Legislation authorizing assured isolation in Texas failed to pass in 1999,
                      and the siting authority was abolished and its functions passed to the
                      licensing commission. Because of these actions, according to an official of
                      the former siting authority, prospects for significant progress in Texas are
                      uncertain.


                      Several states have either not joined compacts or have been ousted or
Unaffiliated States   withdrawn from compacts. Unaffiliated states include Michigan, South
                      Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, the District of Columbia, New
                      Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island.13 Like those states affiliated
                      with compacts, these states have made little progress in siting low-level
                      radioactive waste disposal facilities.

                      Michigan was expelled from the Midwest compact in 1991. In 1995, a
                      policy advisory board issued a series of recommendations to Michigan
                      regarding the conduct of a voluntary host community process, revisions to
                      the state’s siting criteria, and consideration of options to join a compact.
                      Amendments to Michigan state law must be enacted before these



                      13
                       The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980, as amended, included the District of Columbia
                      and Puerto Rico as states.



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recommendations can be implemented and a new siting process is begun.
However, there is currently no effort under way to enact the amendments.

In 1995, South Carolina enacted legislation that withdrew the state from
the Southeast compact. In promoting the state’s withdrawal from the
compact, the governor expressed impatience with North Carolina’s lack of
progress in developing a new regional disposal facility. The legislation also
reopened the Barnwell facility to out-of-region wastes, excluded wastes
from North Carolina until the state issues a license for a low-level waste
facility, and imposed a tax of $235 per cubic foot. The tax provides
revenue for the South Carolina Educational Assistance Endowment Fund,
although revenues from the Barnwell facility have been substantially less
than predicted because of lower-than-expected waste volumes. The
governor and the state legislature are considering proposals on the future
of the Barnwell facility, including the possibility that the state might rejoin
the Southeast Compact or some other compact, or that the state might
restrict the acceptance of wastes at the facility to wastes generated within
the state.

In 1995, Massachusetts hired a contractor to plan and conduct a statewide
mapping and screening program to exclude areas unsuitable for a disposal
facility. However, in 1996, the Massachusetts low-level waste management
board voted to cease all in-state siting efforts because of the renewed
access to the Barnwell disposal site and the expanded availability of the
Envirocare facility. The board also agreed to complete some site-planning
tasks in case in-state siting becomes necessary in the future. The board’s
action was viewed by most users of radioactive materials as justified to
provide time to assess the long-range impact of the reopening of the
Barnwell facility and other developments before incurring significant
additional expenses associated with siting a facility.

In 1986, New York enacted its Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management
Act and created an independent commission to select a site and disposal
method for a low-level waste disposal facility. Beginning in 1988, the
commission conducted a multistep screening process that identified five
potential sites for on-site investigations by September 1989. The
commission had intended to conduct initial on-site technical investigations
of the site and then select at least two sites for a more intensive
characterization process. However, the governor suspended site
investigation activities after strong local protest over the candidate
disposal locations. During the 1995 state legislative session, the state
legislature declined to approve funding for the siting commission, and the



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commission’s activities were subsequently phased out. To date, a revised
siting process has not been determined.

The District of Columbia is not planning to site a low-level waste disposal
facility because of its dense population and the small amount of low-level
wastes generated within its borders. Similarly, New Hampshire is not
planning to build a facility because of the small amounts of wastes
generated. Finally, neither Puerto Rico nor Rhode Island is planning to site
a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.




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Current Facilities for Disposing of
Low-Level Radioactive Wastes

                                        The Barnwell Waste Management facility is located on 235 acres of
Barnwell Facility                       state-owned land in Barnwell County, South Carolina, near DOE’s Savannah
                                        River Site. The Barnwell facility is operated by Chem-Nuclear Systems,
                                        LLC, on land that is owned by the state of South Carolina and leased to the
                                        company.


Figure II.1: A Disposal Trench at the
Barnwell Facility




                                        As an NRC agreement state, South Carolina regulates low-level radioactive
                                        waste disposal operations at the Barnwell facility. Wastes are shipped to
                                        the landfill in prepackaged containers. Waste containers are placed in
                                        concrete vaults located in disposal cells excavated up to 30 feet below
                                        grade. Barnwell is located in an area of clay and sandy soil. A sand layer
                                        covers the bottom of the trench. When a vault is full, its concrete lid is put
                                        in place. One or two additional vaults may be placed on top until the vaults
                                        are stacked two or three high. Backfill around and over the filled concrete
                                        vaults consists of sand and soil. A sand, clay, high-density polyethylene,
                                        and topsoil cap covers the disposal trenches to provide a barrier to the
                                        infiltration of rainwater. Air, surface water, groundwater, vegetation, and
                                        soil samples are monitored regularly. Each sample is analyzed in




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                                         Current Facilities for Disposing of
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                                         Chem-Nuclear’s laboratory under the auspices of the state. There are 92
                                         monitoring wells on site, 28 wells at the site’s boundary, 57 wells off site,
                                         and 275 sumps in waste burial trenches.

                                         As can be seen in table II.1, over the years, the Barnwell site has accepted
                                         all classes of low-level radioactive wastes from 1986 through 1998. By far,
                                         the predominant amount of wastes was from class A wastes, which have
                                         dropped dramatically in volume over the last 13 years.


Table II.1: Volume of Wastes Disposed of at Barnwell by Class of Wastes From 1986 Through 1998
Cubic feet
                                                                 Waste classification
                                A                                B                                     C
Year                      Volume       Percent            Volume           Percent             Volume           Percent           Brokereda
1986                      969,673            95             43,693                 4              6,399                 1             26,090
1987                      780,591            95             30,731                 4              7,063                 1           137,392
1988                      675,622            94             33,030                 5              9,428                 1           213,894
1989                      626,014            94             29,316                 4             12,034                 2           435,936
1990                      455,886            94             23,103                 5              6,206                 1           302,877
1991                      462,956            93             24,803                 5              7,686                 2           294,198
1992                      433,476            92             28,192                 6             10,437                 2           356,552
1993                      280,936            89             25,257                 8             10,627                 3           285,467
1994                      233,138            89             18,659                 7              9,222                 4           472,356
1995                      178,394            91             13,649                 7              5,031                 3           287,921
1996                      113,501            81             19,722               14               7,052                 5           185,290
1997                      195,440            86             23,831               10               8,764                 4
1998                      160,885            83             21,276               11              12,355                 6
Total                   5,566,512                         335,262                              112,304                            2,997,973
                                         a
                                          The “Brokered” classification is used because prior to the use of the Uniform Manifest reporting
                                         system, brokers were not required to report the activity/concentration of the waste shipments from
                                         individual generators. This reporting oversight was corrected in 1997 for Barnwell.




                                         The Richland facility is located on a 100-acre site contained within DOE’s
Richland Facility                        Hanford site—about 25 miles northwest of Richland, Washington. The site
                                         is leased to the state of Washington by DOE and subleased to US Ecology,
                                         the facility’s operator, by the state. The current sublease to US Ecology
                                         expires on July 29, 2005.




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                                        Current Facilities for Disposing of
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Figure II.2: Overview of the Richland
Disposal Facility Showing Various
Available Trenches




                                        Source: US Ecology




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For the Richland disposal facility, the state of Washington regulates the
types of low-level radioactive wastes authorized for receipt and disposal,
the transportation and handling of these wastes, and the methods of
disposing of the wastes. All wastes are received in packaged shipments, as
bulk wastes are not accepted. Packages include metal drums, metal boxes,
land-sea containers, et cetera. Class A wastes are placed in disposal
trenches about 50 feet deep and 800 to 1,000 feet long. Once a portion of
the trench is filled, the trench is backfilled around the waste material, and
an interim cap of 6 inches of rock is put in place. Class B and class C
wastes are placed in concrete engineered barriers and then placed in a
disposal trench. The site is scheduled for closure in 2056, at which time, a
permanent cap will be emplaced over burial trenches. The arid climate and
geology of the area create a desert-like environment. The nearest aquifer is
over 300 feet below the ground surface. Periodic air, soil, water, and
vegetation samples are taken from locations on and around the
Washington facility. An independent laboratory analyzes the samples and
results are submitted to the state. Seven groundwater-monitoring wells
and three monitoring wells in the unsaturated zone above the water table
have been installed at the facility, and a work plan for sampling the soil in
the disposal area has been proposed. Air quality is continuously monitored
during site operations.




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                                     Current Facilities for Disposing of
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Figure II.3: Putting the Finishing
Touches on Disposed Wastes at the
Richland Facility




                                                                                                       (Figure notes on next page)


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Source: US Ecology




US Ecology charges its disposal customers a fee for each cubic foot of
wastes received. Disposal rates (fees) since 1993 have been regulated by
the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. As a
state-regulated utility, US Ecology is guaranteed both reimbursement of its
fixed costs and a rate of return on its fixed costs. Operational revenue for
the Washington facility is currently funded from charges based on
customers’ annual projections for waste volume, exposure, number of
containers, number of shipments, and site availability. As the volume of
wastes disposed of at the facility has declined over the years, disposal fees
have increased to cover the fixed costs of disposal operations.

In addition to these regulated charges, disposal fees include an assessment
for the perpetual care and maintenance of the facility. These funds are put
into dedicated trust funds by the state of Washington. Over $26 million is
available for the closing of the Richland facility, and another post-closure
fund also has over $26 million available. Finally, customers also pay a
per-cubic-foot economic impact surcharge that goes to the local county
and into a Hanford Area Investment fund. Since 1992, this surcharge has
generated over $4.1 million.

Table II.2 shows that from 1986 through 1998, more than 98 percent of the
volume of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes disposed
of at the Richland facility were Class A wastes and that, over this period of
time, the volume of disposed wastes has been declining. Contributing to
the wastes that Richland has or will receive are three nuclear power plants
that are located in the region that Richland serves—the Northwest and
Rocky Mountain compacts. One plant—Ft. St. Vrain in Colorado—has been
decommissioned. A second plant—Trojan, near Portland, Oregon—has
been retired and is now being dismantled. The third plant—WNP-2—is an
operating commercial plant located in another area of DOE’s Hanford site.




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                                         Current Facilities for Disposing of
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Table II.2: Volume of Wastes Disposed of at Richland by Class of Wastes From 1986 Through 1998
Cubic feet
                                                                 Waste Classification
                                A                                B                                     C
Year                      Volume       Percent            Volume           Percent             Volume           Percent           Brokereda
1986                      594,577             98             6,007                 1              6,120                 1             36,568
1987                      448,712             98             7,119                 2              1,343                 0             97,722
1988                      294,967             98             3,969                 1              2,243                 1           102,451
1989                      251,140             98             3,956                 2              1,978                 1           151,217
1990                      209,617             99             1,932                 1                612                 0             83,139
1991                      328,596             99             3,448                 1              1,340                 0             85,823
1992                      298,743             98             4,353                 1              1,624                 1             93,682
1993                      172,266             99               662                 0                702                 0             13,703
1994                       97,705             99               397                 0                202                 0             26,448
1995                      125,951            100               530                 0                   0                0             78,482
1996                      104,309             99               821                 1                  57                0
1997                       89,881             99             1,139                 1                  65                0
1998                      143,972             99                 96                0                699                 0
Total                   3,160,436                           34,429                               16,985                             769,235
                                         a
                                          The “Brokered” classification is used because prior to the use of the Uniform Manifest reporting
                                         system, brokers were not required to report the activity/concentration of the waste shipments from
                                         individual generators. This reporting oversight was corrected in 1996 for the Richland disposal
                                         facility.




                                         Since 1988, Envirocare of Utah, Inc., has operated a 540-acre commercial
Envirocare Facility                      radioactive waste disposal facility located 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.
                                         The facility is located in western Tooele County within a 100-square-mile
                                         hazardous waste zone established by the county. In addition to the
                                         Envirocare facility, the hazardous waste zone includes two incinerators
                                         and the Army’s depot, nerve gas storage site, and Dugway Proving
                                         Grounds. There is no town within 40 miles. The site is located on an
                                         ancient lake bed just west of the Cedar Mountains, and the surrounding
                                         land is open range used primarily for grazing.




                                         Page 84                                 GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                            Appendix II
                                            Current Facilities for Disposing of
                                            Low-Level Radioactive Wastes




Figure II.4: Overview of the Envirocare of Utah Waste Disposal Facility




                                            Source: Envirocare of Utah




                                            The Envirocare facility is authorized to dispose of large quantities of bulk
                                            low-level radioactive wastes, naturally occurring radioactive wastes, and



                                            Page 85                               GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                       Appendix II
                                       Current Facilities for Disposing of
                                       Low-Level Radioactive Wastes




                                       mixed low-level radioactive wastes under specified restrictions. The
                                       license restrictions include limits on radionuclides and concentrations of
                                       radionuclides, and specifications must be imposed on the physical and
                                       chemical properties of the wastes. The state of Utah initially licensed the
                                       facility in 1988 as a facility for disposing of naturally occurring radioactive
                                       wastes. In March 1991, the state amended the license to permit the
                                       disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. Finally, NRC has licensed the
                                       Envirocare facility to dispose of uranium and thorium mill tailings. In
                                       addition to commercial waste generators, the Environmental Protection
                                       Agency, DOE, and the Department of Defense have shipped wastes to
                                       Envirocare for treatment and disposal.

                                       Table II.3 shows the amount of operating wastes and cleanup wastes that
                                       has been disposed of at the Envirocare facility, as well as the amount of
                                       radiation over the last 8 years. Unlike Barnwell and Richland, the
                                       quantities do not show a decreasing trend, and the waste activities are
                                       increasing.

Table II.3: Volume and Curies of
Wastes Disposed of at the Envirocare                                             Waste Volume
Facility                               Year                      Operating            Cleanup               Totala                Curies
                                       1991                           10,233           113,322            123,554                   N/A
                                       1992                           58,380         2,999,882          3,058,262                    22
                                       1993                            2,119         1,109,664          1,111,783                    17
                                       1994                            8,168           492,375            500,543                     8
                                       1995                           53,753           523,036            576,789                    12
                                       1996                          166,787         1,669,359          1,836,146                    88
                                       1997                          257,299         1,959,135          2,216,434                   142
                                       1998                           62,364         1,017,386          1,079,750                   127
                                       Totala                        619,104         9,884,158         10,503,261                   416
                                       Legend N/A = not applicable
                                       a
                                       Totals may not add because of rounding.

                                       Source: DOE’s Manifest Information Management System. Envirocare data prior to 1998 from
                                       monthly reports by Envirocare to the Northwest compact.



                                       Typically, the low-level radioactive wastes received for disposal at the
                                       Envirocare facility are bulky soil or soil-like materials or debris originating
                                       from cleanup projects. To dispose of these materials, Envirocare uses a
                                       different form of land burial from that used at either the Barnwell or
                                       Richland disposal facilities. Unlike the latter two facilities, at the



                                       Page 86                               GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix II
Current Facilities for Disposing of
Low-Level Radioactive Wastes




Envirocare facility, low-level radioactive wastes are placed in above-grade
disposal cells consisting of natural materials, including clay and rocks, as
liner and cap materials. Prior to receiving an initial, low-level radioactive
waste shipment for disposal, Envirocare obtains from the waste generator,
documentation that the low-level radioactive wastes have been approved
for export/transfer to the Envirocare disposal facility. Approval is required
from the low-level radioactive waste compact of origin or from states
unaffiliated with a low-level radioactive waste compact or the state of
origin, to the extent that a state can exercise such control. Wastes are
disposed of in 12-inch layers called “lifts.” Any waste containers received
at the landfill are spilled and compacted with fill materials. Wastes are
compacted and mixed, then capped with fill material. Wastes are
sometimes encapsulated in concrete. A waste cell must be permanently
capped within a reasonable time from being filled. Mixed wastes are
treated by encapsulating the contents in plastic, placing the plastic bundle
in the landfill, and then capping the wastes with fill materials.




Page 87                               GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
                                           Appendix II
                                           Current Facilities for Disposing of
                                           Low-Level Radioactive Wastes




Figure II.5: Unloading Bulk Waste Materials From a Rail Car at the Envirocare Disposal Facility




                                           Source: Envirocare of Utah




                                           Page 88                               GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III

Comments From Compacts of States




               Page 89   GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 90                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 91                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 92                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 93                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 94                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 95                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix III
Comments From Compacts of States




Page 96                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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Comments From Compacts of States




Page 97                            GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix IV

Comments From the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission




              Page 98   GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix IV
Comments From the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission




Page 99                         GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix V

Comments From the Department of Energy




             Page 100   GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix VI

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments


                  (Ms.) Gary L. Jones, (202) 512-3841
GAO Contacts      Dwayne E. Weigel, (202) 512-3841


                  In addition to those named above, John Bagnulo, Charles Sylvis, John
Acknowledgments   Cass, and Susan Irwin made key contributions to this report.




                  Page 101                     GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix VI
GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments




Page 102                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
Appendix VI
GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments




Page 103                        GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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              Radioactive Waste: Interior’s Continuing Review of the Proposed Transfer
              of the Ward Valley Waste Site GAO/RCED-97-184, July 15, 1997)

              Radioactive Waste: Status of Commercial Low-Level Waste Facilities
              (GAO/RCED-95-67, May 5, 1995).

              Nuclear Waste: Connecticut’s First Site Selection Process for a Disposal
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              Nuclear Waste: New York’s Adherence to Site Selection Procedures is
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              Nuclear Waste: Slow Progress Developing Low-Level Radioactive Waste
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(141242)      Page 104                     GAO/RCED-99-238 States’ Disposal of Low-Level Wastes
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