The federal agency charged with nuclear safety has proposed to open the barn door for “just a small portion” of the nation’s nuclear wastes out into the unregulated waste disposal market.

Early in April the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced an interpretation that opens the door to redefining some low-level radioactive wastes as a commodity that can be transferred to haulers who can dispose of it in unlicensed, ordinary landfills. The NRC claimed that since this was an “interpretive decision” very little formal process was required.

This action was taken in the midst of the COVID challenges, perhaps with the hope no one would notice. Our Sen. Angus King, and others, did manage to get the NRC to extend the timetable, but the matter is very consequential.

“Low-level radioactive waste” is a catch-all term, and the NRC proposal refers to “Very Low Level,” but it does note that there is no definition of “very low level.” In past matters, the nuclear agency has allowed definitional creep in expanding an allowed activity by making a determination without citizen input of “no significant hazard.”

This proposal has the potential to open a wide door to big companies stepping into the void and seeking contracts for the disposal of radioactive waste across the whole country. If it is allowed to pass into regulation, no one should be surprised if rural areas with potential or already developed landfill capacity become the targets of campaigns with pressure and big dollars.

In these hard times for our economy, “Maine is open for business” should not include opening our landfills to unlicensed radioactive waste disposal from anywhere. The NRC’s official comment period is short, ending July 20. Even in trying times, no state deserves to have radioactive waste handled in unlicensed and unaccountable facilities.


Jim Perkins


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