Nuclear Regulatory Commission Proposes to Allow Some Nuclear Waste Disposal in Landfills

St. Louis area landfill containing nuclear waste that migrated.      Photo: Laurie Skrivan, AP via WSJ

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is proposing to loosen restrictions on the disposal of the waste from nuclear power plants to allow municipal landfills to take it, thus lowering costs for the aging nuclear plants.  The Hill reported that scientists and environmental advocates oppose the proposal — particularly coming now during the coronavirus pandemic — because it would put public health at risk, particularly given the rollbacks in regulations on emissions from landfills and the current lack of any enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency of all regulations.

Why This Matters:  Who wants nuclear waste in their municipal landfill?  Especially when we know those were not designed to accept this kind of toxic waste that could have devastating health impacts in neighboring communities.  This seems like a really bad idea – with no safeguards to ensure that surrounding groundwater, land and neighborhoods remain safe.  The pandemic may be a big challenge for the Trump administration but they are not taking their eye off the ball as far as deregulation of environmental, health and safety rules.

The NRC Says Its NBD

There is a limit to what even the NRC would accept.  The proposed rollback would not permit waste with a large level of radiation to be put in a landfill — waste with a cumulative radiation dose level of up to 25 millirem would not be permitted, which is low.  But there is no cumulative amount allowed in any landfill and a rule like this one is easy to get around by making each load fall under the limit.  They claim that this just allows states to permit the landfills to take nuclear waste without the state having to approve each disposal.

What the NGOs and Scientists Say

Dan Hirsch, the former director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy, argues this is a terrible proposal — “[w]hat they’re trying to do is prop up a failing industry so that the cost of decommissioning these [nuclear] reactors is reduced so you don’t have to send it to a place that is expensive because it’s designed to safely handle it.”   And Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Pacific Director Jeff Ruch said: “NRC’s action could transform most municipal dumps into radioactive repositories, with essentially no safeguards for workers, nearby residents, or adjoining water tables.”   In the past, nuclear waste dumped in landfills has been found to migrate off the site — like happened at a landfill in St. Louis where it was later found in a nearby creek, in the yards of private homes and under ballfields.

Up Next

One Cool Thing: Green Halloween

One Cool Thing: Green Halloween

Spooky season is almost over, how does your everyday werewolf or vampire keep it green this Halloween?  While the holiday can easily be filled with candy wrappers, disposable decorations, and costumes your kid will likely never wear again, the internet has some “tricks” to keep your celebrations environmentally friendly.   EcoWatch’s list of best methods […]

Continue Reading 106 words
One Cool Thing: Going for the Climate Gold

One Cool Thing: Going for the Climate Gold

This past July, all eyes were on Tokyo when over 10,000 Olympians from 206 nations descended on the city to make history. Despite a decrease in carbon emissions due to COVID-19 and fewer traveling spectators, the games still produced 2.3 million tons of CO2.    In 2021, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) pledged to reduce […]

Continue Reading 144 words
One Cool Thing: Fighting the Pandemic Plastic Boom

One Cool Thing: Fighting the Pandemic Plastic Boom

Startups across the country are on a mission to provide sustainable food packaging options and close the plastic loop, especially prompted by the pandemic take-out boom. Over 70% of Americans order delivery one to three times a week, creating hundreds of billions of single-use bowls, bags, utensils, and more.   But some innovative companies have […]

Continue Reading 168 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.