Jump to Content
DOE Environmental Management
Greater-Than-Class-C Low-Level Radioactive Waste EIS
Home About the EIS Getting Involved Greater-Than-Class-C Low-Level Radioactive Waste Guide EIS Documents News Frequently Asked Questions Glossary E-mail Services
Greater-Than-Class C Low-Level Radioactive Waste EIS Information Center


Search
Subscribe

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A list of frequently asked questions about the Greater-Than-Class C Low-Level Radioactive Waste Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the GTCC LLRW EIS. Click a question below to see the answer.

Back to Top

What is an EIS?

"EIS" is the abbreviation for environmental impact statement, a document prepared to evaluate the impacts of proposed activities on the environment. "Environment," in this case, is defined as the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment. This means that the "environment" considered in an EIS includes land, water, air, structures, living organisms, environmental values at the site, and social, cultural, and economic factors.

An EIS is a decision making tool to assist senior management in deciding on a future course of action. It is a document that describes the impacts on the environment as a result of a proposed action. It also describes impacts of alternatives, as well as plans to mitigate the impacts.

An "impact" is a change or consequence that results from an activity. Impacts can be positive or negative, or both. An EIS describes impacts, as well as ways to "mitigate" impacts. To "mitigate" means to lessen or remove negative impacts.

For more information on the GTCC LLRW EIS, visit About the GTCC LLRW EIS.

Back to Top

Why is an EIS needed for developing disposal capability for GTCC LLRW?

DOE proposes to construct and operate a new facility or facilities or to use an existing facility for the disposal of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste. This is a major federal action which could significantly impact the quality of the human environment. An EIS is the appropriate document to prepare for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

An EIS will allow for an assessment and disclosure of the environmental impacts associated with siting and operating a GTCC LLRW disposal facility. This will facilitate input and suggestions from stakeholders including regulatory agencies, elected officials, environmental organizations, and individual citizens on how best to proceed with this project.

Back to Top

Why is DOE evaluating disposal alternatives for GTCC LLRW?

The Federal Government was assigned responsibility for developing disposal capability for GTCC LLRW in the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (LLRWPAA). DOE is the federal agency responsible for disposal of GTCC LLRW. The LLRWPAA (Public Law 99-240) amended the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-573). The overall purpose of the original law and its amendments in 1985 was to allow for the orderly disposal of commercially generated LLRW, including the development of state compacts for disposal sites in various parts of the country.

The LLRWPAA states that the Federal Government (DOE) has the responsibility for the disposal of GTCC LLRW, and such disposal shall take place in a facility licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In addition, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-58) required DOE to submit a Report to Congress on the estimated cost and proposed schedule for completion of the EIS (this was done in July 2006), and to submit a second Report to Congress on disposal alternatives and await Congressional action before issuing a record of decision. DOE is initiating the EIS process at this time in accordance with these requirements.

Back to Top

What is the scope of the analysis in the Final GTCC EIS?

The scope of the EIS includes an assessment of the positive and negative environmental, social, and economic impacts of constructing, operating, and closure of a disposal facility or facilities for GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste. DOE has evaluated several disposal methods at various DOE site locations. The disposal methods include enhanced near-surface disposal (trench and vault), intermediate depth borehole disposal, and disposal in a geologic repository. DOE site locations evaluated in the Final EIS are the Hanford Site, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site, Savannah River Site, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and vicinity. Generic commercial locations are also evaluated in the EIS.

For more information, visit What's In the GTCC EIS.

Back to Top

What impacts and issues are evaluated in the Final GTCC EIS?

DOE evaluated the following impacts and issues in the Final GTCC EIS.

  • Potential environmental impacts including air, noise and water quality.
  • Potential transportation impacts from the shipment of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste to the disposal site(s).
  • Potential impacts from postulated accidents.
  • Cumulative impacts from past, present and reasonably foreseeable actions.
  • Impacts to involved and non-involved site workers.
  • Potential impacts to historical and cultural artifacts or sites of historical and cultural significance.
  • Potential disproportionately high and adverse effects on low income and minority populations (environmental justice).
  • Irretrievable and irreversible commitment of resources.
  • Short-term and long-term land use impacts.
  • Compliance with applicable federal, state, and local requirements.
  • Long-term site health and environmental impacts, including potential impacts to groundwater and surface water quality.
  • Long-term site suitability, including erosion and seismicity.
  • Potential impacts to endangered species.
  • Intentional destructive acts.

For more information, visit What's In the GTCC LLRW EIS.

Back to Top

What is Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW)?

LLRW is defined not by what it is, but rather by what it is not. LLRW is radioactive waste that is not high-level radioactive waste, transuranic waste, spent nuclear fuel, or 11e(2) byproduct material (uranium and thorium mill tailings and wastes). LLRW consists of a wide range of wastes having various physical and chemical characteristics and concentrations of radioactive isotopes. Disposal of commercially generated LLRW is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and must be done in a controlled manner to protect human health and the environment.

The NRC has developed requirements for land disposal of LLRW, and these are set forth in 10 CFR Part 61 (Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste). These requirements were based on a waste classification system developed by NRC. The NRC defined four classes of LLRW in 10 CFR 61.55, i.e., Classes A, B, and C waste, and waste that is not generally acceptable for near-surface disposal. Waste classes A, B, and C are identified based on the concentrations of specific radionuclides identified in two tables in 10 CFR 61.55. The potential hazards of LLRW increase as the letter increases. The disposal requirements in terms of the physical stability of the waste, its packaging needs, degree of isolation from the environment, and protection from inadvertent human intrusion increase as the waste classes increase from A to C to GTCC.

Back to Top

What is Greater-Than-Class C LLRW and GTCC-like waste?

Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) LLRW is LLRW in which the concentrations of radionuclides exceed the limits for Class C LLRW given in 10 CFR 61.55. This waste is generally not acceptable for near-surface disposal using conventional waste disposal practices. Disposal methods for these wastes must be more stringent than those used for Class C LLRW. GTCC LLRW is generated by NRC or Agreement State licensed activities.

In addition to the GTCC LLRW generated as a result of NRC or Agreement State licensed activities, DOE generates or owns LLRW and transuranic wastes having characteristics similar to GTCC LLRW, and which may not have an identified path to disposal. These wastes are referred to as GTCC-like waste, and are being addressed in this EIS along with GTCC LLRW. Since DOE has the responsibility for disposing of both GTCC LLRW (as required by the LLRWPAA) and its own comparable radioactive waste, this approach should provide a cost-effective solution to this concern.

Back to Top

How much GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste is there?

The current (stored) volume of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste is estimated to be about 1,100 m3 containing about 1.7 million curies of activity. Most of this volume (about 960 m3 containing 0.34 million curies) is GTCC-like waste.

An additional volume of 10,600 m3 of waste containing about 154 million curies is projected to be generated from all sources in the future. This projection is through 2083 to account for the GTCC LLRW that could be generated from decommissioning all currently operating and planned commercial nuclear reactors.

About 80% of the projected volume of 10,600 m3 is GTCC LLRW with GTCC-like waste accounting for the remainder. Most of the activity (about 160 million curies) is associated with the activated metal wastes from decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants. In summary, the total volume of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste being addressed in this EIS is estimated to be about 12,000 m3 containing a total of 160 million curies of activity.

In contrast, the total volume of Class A, B, and C LLRW disposed of at commercial radioactive waste disposal facilities over the next 50 years is estimated to be about 5,400,000 m3 containing 22 million curies. The total volume of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste (12,000 m3) is a very small fraction (about 0.2%) of the total volume of radioactive waste requiring disposal over a comparable time period; however, this waste contains about seven times more activity.

Back to Top

What waste types are analyzed in the Final EIS?

For purposes of the EIS, GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste are comprised of three waste types: sealed sources, activated metals, and other wastes. Sealed sources consist of small quantities of highly radioactive material enclosed in metal containers. These sources are used for a number of medical (cancer treatment) and industrial (detection of flaws in welds and pipelines) activities. Radionuclides commonly used in sealed sources include cesium-137, plutonium-239, and americium-241.

Activated metals result from decommissioning nuclear reactors. Portions of the reactor assembly and other components near the nuclear fuel are activated by neutrons during reactor operations, producing high concentrations or radionuclides. The major radionuclides in these wastes are typically manganese-54, iron-55, cobalt-60, and nickel-63.

The third category is Other Waste resulting from production of radionuclides for cancer treatment (e.g. molybdenum-99), DOE production of radioisotope power systems for space exploration and national security, commercial/DOE environmental cleanup. This waste type includes contaminated equipment, debris, trash, scrap metal, and decontamination and decommissioning waste. These wastes can include a number of physical forms and a range of radionuclides may be present in these wastes. The radionuclides of most concern in these wastes are generally expected to be technetium-99, cesium-137, and americium-241.

A majority of the GTCC-like waste in this category consists of transuranic (TRU) waste that may have originated from non-defense activities, and therefore is not authorized for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) under the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act of 1992, Public Law 102-579, and has no other currently identified path to disposal. That is, these wastes may contain concentrations of alpha-emitting TRU radionuclides with half-lives greater than 20 years in concentrations exceeding 100 nanocuries per gram (nCi/g). These TRU wastes may not have a path to disposal if they are determined to have been generated from non-defense activities. The long-term hazard associated with these wastes is similar to that posed by other GTCC LLRW, and are being addressed in this EIS.

Back to Top

What disposal methods are analyzed in the Final EIS?

Alternative methods of disposal analyzed are: deep geologic repository; intermediate depth boreholes; enhanced near-surface trenches; and above grade vaults. These methods are described under Disposal Methods for Greater-Than-Class C Low-Level Radioactive Waste (GTCC LLRW).

Back to Top

What locations are analyzed in the Final EIS?

There are currently no disposal sites for GTCC LLRW. The sites evaluated in the EIS are WIPP, the Hanford Site, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site, Savannah River Site, and WIPP vicinity. Generic commercial locations or facilities are analyzed in the EIS recognizing that additional review under NEPA may be required should one or more commercial facilities be proposed in the future.

Back to Top

What is DOE's preferred alternative for the disposal of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste?

The preferred alternative for the disposal of GTCC and GTCC-like waste is the WIPP geologic repository and/or generic commercial facilities. Due to the uncertainty regarding the need for legislative changes and/or licensing or permitting changes, further analysis will be needed before a Record of Decision is announced. DOE has determined the preferred alternative would satisfy its needs for the disposal of GTCC and GTCC-like waste. Prior to making a final decision on which disposal alternative to implement, DOE will submit a Report to Congress to fulfill the requirement of Section 631(b)(1)(B)(i) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and await action by Congress. Section 631(b)(1)(B)(i) requires that the report include all alternatives under consideration and all the information required in the comprehensive report to ensure safe disposal of GTCC LLRW that was submitted by the Secretary to Congress in February 1987. DOE will not issue a Record of Decision until its required Report to Congress has been provided and appropriate action has been taken by Congress in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Back to Top

What are the roles of DOE, NRC, and EPA in preparation of the EIS?

DOE has the responsibility for developing appropriate disposal capability for GTCC LLRW, and is the lead agency for preparation of the EIS. The disposal facility and technology identified by DOE for disposal of GTCC LLRW will need to be licensed by NRC as specified in the LLRWPAA. The EPA is participating in the EIS process as a cooperating agency. The NRC is participating in the EIS process as a commenting agency.

Back to Top

How long will it take to complete the GTCC EIS?

Preparation of the GTCC LLRW EIS is a multistep process that will include publication of a Draft EIS, a Final EIS, and a Record of Decision (ROD). Pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, before DOE issues a ROD, DOE must submit a report to Congress that includes a description of the alternatives under consideration and await action by Congress.

The EIS schedule can be found at http://www.nepa.energy.gov/. All comments on the Draft EIS were considered in preparing the Final EIS.

Back to Top

How can I obtain a copy of the Final GTCC EIS?

The Final EIS is available online in a downloadable and searchable format on this Web site. This Web site also provides an online order form and other information regarding obtaining a copy of the Final EIS.


Didn't see your question here?

Contact us at gtcceiswebmaster@anl.gov. We'll do our best to answer your question.