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Low-Level Radioactive Waste

Modern society uses ionizing radiation, a form of energy abundant in nature, to provide hundreds of beneficial uses, ranging from smoke detectors and industrial gauges to nuclear medicine technologies and electricity generation. Many beneficial uses of radioactive materials result in the production of commercial low-level radioactive waste (LLW).

Where It Comes From

Low-level radioactive waste is a byproduct of the beneficial uses of radioactive materials, including electricity generation, medical diagnosis and treatment, biomedical and pharmaceutical research, and manufacturing.

Low-level waste is solid material that can be safely transported under strict regulations established by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). It usually consists of items such as gloves and other protective clothing, glass and plastic laboratory supplies, machine parts and tools, and disposable medical items that have come in contact with radioactive materials. The LLW produced at nuclear power plants consists of water purification filters and resins, tools, protective clothing and plant hardware, such as steam generators. It does not include used nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants or any waste from U.S. defense programs.

Licensed Disposal Facilities

Low-level waste is either stored onsite until the radioactivity decays away or is sent to disposal facilities licensed and regulated either by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or by one of the 37 "agreement states" that have entered into agreements with the NRC.

Four disposal facilities currently accept low-level radioactive waste. They are located at Barnwell, S.C.; Richland, Wash.; Clive, Utah and Andrews, Texas.