GREATER-THAN-CLASS-C
(GTCC) RADIOACTIVE WASTE


Reader's Note: The information presented in these documents is provided to assist readers in understanding GTCC waste storage and disposal issues. Updates to the page will occur as more information becomes available.


BACKGROUND: This page contains the State of Nevada's comments on the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) proposed pilot project for storing up to 56 cubic feet of Greater-Than-Class-C Radioactive Waste (GTCC) at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). This waste was generated from the decommissioning of the commercial Yankee Rowe nuclear power plant located in the State of Massachusetts. DOE is proposing to use the Nevada Test Site as the location of a pilot project for the storage of this material.

This page also provides current background information on storage and disposal strategies for GTCC wastes that are under development by DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In brief, the page contains information about DOE's management strategies for GTCC waste; previous decisions and management strategies issued by DOE (i.e., as part of DOE's Record of Decision for the Spent Fuel Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement); evolving regulatory actions by the NRC that address "interim storage" of GTCC waste; and the State of Nevada's official reaction to the proposed GTCC storage program at NTS. The page also provides a Fact Sheet about GTCC waste.

GTCC Waste -- Document Index

Activity Date

Description

March 13, 1995 DOE Federal Register Notice -- Strategy for Management and Disposal of Greater-Than-Class-C Low-Level Radioactive Waste
November 5, 1996 DOE Nevada Operations Office presents draft GTCC Greater-Than-Class-C Pilot Interim Storage Project to the NTS (Nevada Test Site) Community Advisory Board
December 5, 1996 Letter to DOE from Robert Loux, Executive Director, Agency for Nuclear Projects
March 5, 1997 The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission ) issues Draft Rulemaking Plan on "Interim Storage for Greater-Than-Class-C Waste, Changes to 10 CFR Part 72
March 5, 1997 Lockheed Martin Overview on DOE-EM Greater-Than- Class-C Waste Management Program at DOE Idaho
April 2, 1997 Letter to DOE (Alvin Alm) from Governor Bob Miller
August 4, 1997 Response Letter from DOE Secretary Alvin Alm to Governor Bob Miller


Fact Sheet on Greater-Than-Class-C Waste

General Background

Greater-Than-Class-C radioactive waste (GTCC ) is waste generated by licensees of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The waste has concentrations of certain radionuclides above the Class C limits as stated in 10 CFR 61.55. GTCC waste is considered a form of low-level radioactive waste (LLW). There are four classes of LLW, in ascending order of hazard: Class A, B, C, and GTCC.

For classes A, B, and C, the NRC has regulations (10 CFR Part 61) that set concentration limits for both short-lived and long-lived radionuclides. These limits are actually formulas that reflect both the half-lives and the hazards of the radionuclides in each class.

In terms of hazard, Class A LLW is intended to be safe after 100 years, Class B after 300 years, and Class C after 500 years. These LLWs are typically disposed of in shallow land burial sites; however, because of its high hazard, GTCC waste is not typically disposed of in shallow land burial sites or commingled with Class A, B, and C LLW.

In the United States, radioactive waste is generally defined by the use from which it was generated, as opposed to its actual hazard in terms of radioactivity. In general, there are three major categories of radioactive wastes:

* Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF)
* High Level Wastes (HLW)
* Transuranic or TRU Waste, and
* Low-Level Wastes (LLW)

GTCC Waste Profile

Most forms of GTCC waste are generated by routine operations at nuclear power plants, fuel research facilities, and manufacturers of radiopharmaceuticals and sealed sources. Future GTCC waste is also expected to be generated by the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors. By far, the largest volume of GTCC waste (+50%) is generated by nuclear power plant operations and decommissioning. Examples of GTCC waste include activated metal hardware (e.g., nuclear power reactor control rods), spent fuel disassembly hardware, ion exchange resins, filters, evaporator residues, sealed sources that are used in medical and industrial applications, moisture and density gauges, and contaminated trash. The type of radionuclides that are considered high enough in concentrations to be classified as GTCC waste include: C14, Ni59, Nb94, Co60, Tc99, I129, Sr90, and Cs137.

Management Strategies for GTCC Waste

Under the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985, [P.L. 99-240], the Federal Government (DOE) is responsible for ensuring the safe disposal of GTCC waste in a facility licensed by the NRC. It is worth mentioning, however, that the NRC rad-waste classification system does not apply to wastes generated by DOE (i.e., defense waste). This is complicated by the fact that DOE currently manages significant volumes of low-level "defense" wastes that are similar and/or equivalent to commercially generated GTCC waste. DOE refers to these similar waste types as "Special Case Waste" (SCW). Readers might note that the State of Nevada's comments on the referenced interim storage program calls for a "joint evaluation for the treatment, storage, and disposal of both commercially generated GTCC waste and other DOE waste types that have similar hazard characteristics." The federal government has never undertaken such an evaluation.

GTCC Waste Volumes

About 200 m3 of GTCC waste currently exist, and this waste contains a total radioactivity of about 4.2 million curies. In terms of life cycle waste volumes, current estimates suggest that about 2,400 m3 of GTCC wastes will be generated through the year 2035. That amount of waste will produce about 37 million curies of radioactivity. (Source: January 24, 1997 Memorandum from Bentz & Associates.)

GTCC Waste Storage

Currently, GTCC waste must be stored by NRC licensees in compliance with an existing general or specified NRC license held by the licensee. However, as referenced above, the NRC is currently initiating a regulatory action that would allow licensees to store GTCC waste at an independent spent fuel storage installation.

GTCC Waste Disposal

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act requires that GTCC waste generated by NRC licensees be disposed of in a facility licensed by the NRC. More importantly, NRC regulations require that disposal of GTCC waste must be done in a deep geologic repository, unless another disposal facility has been approved by the NRC.

Treatment of GTCC Waste

Since no GTCC waste is currently being disposed of, most treatment technologies are aimed at volume reduction and preparation for storage. No GTCC waste has been disposed of since the NRC placed a prohibition/restriction on GTCC shallow land disposal after enactment of the Low-Level Waste Policy Act.



Spent Fuel

Spent Nuclear Fuels (SNF) and High-Level Wastes (HLW) are classified as either spent nuclear fuel assemblies produced from commercial or government-owned nuclear reactors, or liquid wastes (HLW) that were generated from reprocessing SNF. Spent Nuclear Fuel that has been discharged from a reactor after irradiation contains fission radionuclides with much higher radioactivity levels than the radionuclides found in other waste forms, including GTCC waste. In fact, freshly discharged spent fuel is both physically and radioactively "hot" and must be handled, transported, and stored using heavy shielding and neutron moderation materials with provisions for appropriate heat venting.


High-Level Waste

High-Level Waste (HLW) is classified as liquid waste that was generated from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, research reactor and production reactor fuels, irradiated targets, and naval propulsion fuel. HLW generally contains more than 99% of the non-volatile fission products produced during reactor operation. Most fission products have short half-lives and therefore quickly decay. HLW older than one year contains primarily the fission radionuclides Cs137 and Sr90 and very small amounts of transuranic radionuclides. When generated, HLW is a highly radioactive, acidic liquid that generates heat and must be handled remotely behind heavy shielding in corrosion-resistant vessels, usually made out of stainless steel. Various processes have been utilized to convert HLW into other forms. HLW currently exists in a variety of physical forms (e.g., alkaline or acidic supernatant liquid, sludge, salt cake, or calcine solid), all of which must be stored behind heavy shielding and usually in underground tanks or bins. Most of DOE's inventory of HLW is contained at three facilities: the Hanford Reservation in Washington State, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.


Transuranic Waste

Transuranic waste or TRU waste refers to man-made radioactive wastes that have particles whose atoms are heavier than uranium, are alpha particle emitting with a half-life longer than twenty years, and a concentration greater than 100 nano-curies per gram of waste(100 nCi/g ). TRU wastes were generated by nuclear weapons production and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels and typically include particles of Plutonium-239, Americium-243, Neptunium 237, and others. Most TRU wastes do not produce high levels of penetrating radiation; however, there is a significant danger of alpha particles being ingested or inhaled that can damage the lungs and internal organs. TRU waste is being managed by DOE, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is being considered as the final disposal site for most TRU waste.


Low-Level Waste

Low-Level Waste is any waste that is contaminated with radioactivity that is not otherwise defined as one of the above waste categories. Low-Level Waste is defined as what it is not, as opposed to what it is!


Special Case Waste Volumes

DOE has identified certain waste as Special Case Waste. Special Case Waste is defined as radioactive waste owned or generated by DOE that does not fit into typical management plans developed for the major radioactive waste types such as HLW, LLW, or TRU waste. For example, it is LLW that, because of its high radioactivity levels, cannot currently be disposed of at existing DOE LLW disposal facilities without exceeding performance standards and TRU waste that cannot meet geologic disposal acceptance criteria. The volume of Special Case Waste exceeds 75,000 m3, of which approximately 50% is LLW and 50% is TRU waste. (Source: DOE Draft Waste Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, page 1-16 [DOE/EIS-0200-d])


GTCC Waste -- Document Index


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