American Nuclear Society recommends updating EPA repository regs

August 16, 2023, 9:15AMPress Releases

Downers Grove, Illinois – The American Nuclear Society (ANS) published a finalized report on recommendations for updating public health and safety standards for the permanent disposal of commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at future geological repository projects in the United States.

The finalized report, Recommendations on Postclosure Aspects of Generic Standards for the Permanent Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level and Transuranic Radioactive Wastes in the United States, recommends changes to current geologic repository regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that apply to all sites except Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Those generic standards were issued 30 years ago, and the state of the practice in the regulation of geologic repositories has evolved significantly since then.

“The U.S. nuclear waste disposal program has been at a standstill since the suspension of the Yucca Mountain geologic repository project more than a decade ago, in 2010,” said Dr. John Kessler, Chair of the ANS Special Committee on Generic Standards for Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Waste which authored the report. “It is time to get moving again, and in order to evaluate the suitability of future geologic repository sites, the country needs up-to-date health and safety standards against which long-term repository performance can be assessed.”

The ANS committee produced the report with the aim of spurring the development of updated EPA geologic repository standards. EPA will likely require direction from Congress before formal rulemaking begins.

Peer reviewed; feedback incorporated: ANS elicited feedback on its recommendations when it released a draft version of the report in February. In response, the ANS committee received helpful input from the public as well as from a distinguished group of peer reviewers from the technical community. The finalized report incorporated changes resulting from the public comments and technical peer reviews.

Long-term solutions for spent nuclear fuel: The U.S. has safely managed spent nuclear fuel on-site at nuclear facilities for decades. “The U.S. nuclear waste management system is missing one important piece, however: a long-term geologic repository,” wrote Dr. Steven Arndt, Immediate Past President of ANS (2022-23 ANS President), in the report’s preface.

“The future course in waste management is far from settled, but one fact is evident,” said Arndt. “There will be high-level radioactive waste that requires disposal, and that material will be emplaced in some sort of underground geologic repository or repositories. In fact, other countries are already proceeding down this path.”

“Updated, transparent standards for long-term repository performance are needed to enable siting of future geologic disposal systems and engender public confidence in the safety of those facilities,” said Arndt.

Updating yesterday’s standards for tomorrow: The finalized report states that the current standards codified in the EPA regulation 40 CFR Part 191 are 30 years old, lack transparency, are not consistent with modern international approaches, and would be challenging to apply to innovative new concepts such as deep borehole disposal.

The ANS committee’s recommendation is to use the Yucca Mountain standards, rather than existing generic standards, as the starting point for new generic standards. The Yucca Mountain standards, which apply only to that site, better represent international best practices and current knowledge. Specific recommendations that would be retained include using the individual dose standard as the primary quantitative measure of repository performance and requiring a stylized assessment of the effects of human intrusion. The report also recommends retaining elements of the current generic standards, including limiting the regulatory time period for quantitative evaluation of performance to 10,000 years.

ANS is hopeful this publication of the final report will encourage the federal government to begin the much-needed revision to public health and safety standards for geologic repositories.


About: Established in 1954, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) is an international professional organization of engineers and scientists devoted to the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology. Its more than 10,000 members represent government, academia, research laboratories, medical facilities, and private industry. ANS’s mission is to advance, foster, and spur the development and application of nuclear science, engineering, and technology to benefit society.

Media Contact:

Amelia Tiemann

(708) 579-8207 | media@ans.org


Related Articles

The 2024 Nuclear News Energy Quiz

January 19, 2024, 7:02AMNuclear News

Are you an energy genius? It’s hard to tell whether or not Americans are really aware of the energy that controls our lives, so the following quiz should be revealing. Click through the...