The Trump administration is pushing for a rule change that critics predict will lead to dangerous amounts of radioactive materials disposed of in landfills, according to The Guardian.
“This would be the most massive deregulation of radioactive waste in American history,” said Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear industry non-profit. Hirsch perceives the new proposal as one that would permit “very low-level” radioactive waste to be disposed of by “land burial.”
Low-level radioactive waste is currently disposed of in highly regulated sites in Texas, Washington, South Carolina and Utah. Rare exemptions are given by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for unlicensed disposal sites with strict case-by-case protocols.
The proposed rule change, however, would relax the rules about the disposal of radioactive materials.
“If you dump radioactive waste in places that aren’t designed to deal with it, it comes back to haunt you. It’s in the air you breathe, the food that you eat, the water you drink,” Hirsch said.
David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, explained in an email to The Guardian that the proposed rule would only apply to a small “subset” of very low level waste, and “the radioactivity level of very low-level waste is so low that it may be safely disposed of in hazardous or municipal solid waste landfills.” And the agency would not allow such disposals to take place “if we felt public health and safety and the environment would not be protected.”
However, the lack of definition of “very low level waste” by NRC raised controversy.
“Background doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who added that the rule’s vague language “opens the floodgates” for nuclear waste to be disposed of “as if not radioactive.”
Some environmentalists also fear that the rule change would disproportionately affect low-income communities whose neighborhoods are more likely to be situated near solid waste landfills.