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Learn about the Energy Department's new interpretation of high-level radioactive waste. 

Video courtesy of the Department of Energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sent a supplemental notice to the Federal Register that provides the public with its interpretation of high-level radioactive waste (HLW), informed by more than 5,000 public comments. For decades, DOE has managed nearly all reprocessing waste streams as HLW regardless of radioactivity. This one- size-fits-all approach has led to decades of delay, costs billions of dollars, and left the waste trapped in DOE facilities in the states of South Carolina, Washington, and Idaho without a permanent disposal solution.

“Recognizing this failure, this Administration is proposing a responsible, results-driven solution that will finally open potential avenues for the safe treatment and removal of the lower level waste currently housed in three states,” said U.S. Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “DOE is going to analyze each waste stream and manage it in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, with the goal of getting the lower-level waste out of these states without sacrificing public safety.”

Going forward, DOE’s interpretation is that reprocessing waste streams are defined by their characteristics, not just how they were made. With this new interpretation, DOE will pursue new avenues for the responsible and safe treatment and removal of lower level waste that has been languishing at DOE sites, while protecting the environment and the health and safety of local communities.

This interpretation does not change or revise any current policies, legal requirements, permits or agreements. Decisions about whether and how this interpretation of HLW will apply to existing wastes and whether such wastes may be disposed of as non-HLW will be the subject of subsequent actions. Any actions to implement the HLW interpretation will be done on a site- specific basis with appropriate engagement with affected stakeholders.

DOE is also issuing a separate Federal Register notice initiating a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to determine the potential environmental impacts of the disposal of a Savannah River Site reprocessing waste stream as non-HLW at a commercial disposal facility licensed to receive low-level radioactive waste. The Department will continue to work with the affected local communities on this analysis and the path forward for cleanup at Savannah River.

For more information on HLW and DOE’s interpretation, please visit



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