Low-level radioactive waste is a general term for a wide range of materials contaminated with radioisotopes (Gershey, Klein, Party & Wilkerson 1990; Burns 1988). Industries and hospitals, medical, educational and research institutions, private and government laboratories, and nuclear fuel cycle facilities using radioactive materials generate low-level radioactive wastes as part of normal operations. These wastes are generated in many physical and chemical forms, and at many levels of contamination. Low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) accounts for only one percent of the activity (curies, bequerels) but eighty-five percent of the volume of radioactive waste generated in the United States. The NRC defines LLRW as "radioactive material subject to NRC regulations that is not high-level waste, spent nuclear fuel, or mill tailings and which NRC classifies in 10 CFR Part 61 as low-level radioactive waste."
Table 11.26.1 shows the origins of most radioactive wastes. Figure 11.26.1 shows general classifications for all radioactive wastes. Low-level wastes fall under four categories:
1. Below regulatory concern
2. Generator disposed
4. Greater than class C
Approximately two million cubic feet of LLRW are disposed of annually at currently operating commercial disposal sites. The nuclear fuel cycle accounts for over fifty percent of this volume, and more than eighty percent of the activity.
Although contact with radioactive waste in the environment should be minimal, due to the highly regulated nature of the waste handling protocols, the ongoing design, operation, and maintenance of the numerous sites are ongoing activities requiring the expertise of environmental engineers and scientists.
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