Glossary For Mixed Waste (Nuclear and Chemical, Together)

Mixed Waste Glossary - Radioactive and Chemical / Hazardous Waste

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Atomic Energy Act (AEA) - This 1954 Act created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC later split into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy and Research and Development Administration (ERDA). ERDA then became part of the Deparment of Energy in 1977. This act encouraged the development and use of nuclear energy and research for the general welfare and of the common defense and security for the United States. It is the basis of authority for NRC, DOE, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in regulating radioactive materials defined in the AEA. NARM is not defined under this act and is therefore not subject to its requirements.

By-product Material - There are basically two types of by-product materials. The first are produced by a nuclear reactor and the second are produced by the uranium and thorium mining process. A more precise definition reads: "(1) Any radioactive material (except special nuclear material) yielded in, or made radioactive by, exposure incident to the process of producing or utilizing special nuclear material, and (2) The tailings or wastes produced by the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore processed primarily for its source material content, including discrete surface wastes resulting from uranium solution extraction processes. Underground ore bodies depleted by these solution extraction operations do not constitute "by-product material" within this definition (10 CFR 20.1003)."

CERCLA (Superfund) - Passed in 1980, the Comprehensive, Emergency Response, and Compensation and Liability Act (also known as Superfund) addresses immediate and long term threats to the public health and the environment from abandoned or active sites contaminated with hazardous or radioactive materials. Under the Superfund program, EPA has the authority to clean up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites using money from a trust fund supported primarily from a tax on chemical feedstocks used by manufacturers. Companies or individuals responsible for the wastes are identified by EPA, if possible, and made to pay for the cleanups. The Superfund Amendments and reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986 reauthorized CERCLA to continue cleanup activities around the country. Several site-specific amendments, definitions, clarifications, and technical requirements were added to the legislation, including additional enforcement authorities. Title III of SARA also authorized the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

Curie (Ci) - Radioactive atoms are unstable and break down by disintegrating into other atoms. The unit of radioactivity equal to 3.7 x 10^10 disintegrations per second or 3.7 x 10^10 becquerel (Bq). A common unit used in environmental measurements is the picocurie (pCi) which is equal to 1/10^-12 Ci or 0.037 disintegrations per second or 0.037 Bq.

Department of Energy (DOE) - This Federal agency's mission is to achieve efficiency in energy use, diversity in energy sources, a more productive and competitive economy, improved environmental quality, and a secure national defense. DOE was created on October 1, 1977 out of the Energy and Research and Development Agency as well as various aspects of non-nuclear federal energy policy and programs. The DOE complex which is located over 22 States with sites that range in size from small to very large produced and tested nuclear weapons. This site ( will link you to DOE's HomePage.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Created in 1970, the EPA is responsible for working with state and local governments to control and prevent pollution in areas of solid and hazardous waste, pesticides, water, air, drinking water, and toxic and radioactive substances.

Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA or FFCAct) - An amendment to RCRA, the FFCA waives immunity for DOE and other Federal Agencies, allowing States and the EPA to impose penalties for non-compliance and requires DOE to develop plans for treating the hazardous components of radioactive wastes subject to RCRA requirements.

Half-Life - The half-life of a radioactive material is the time it takes for half of the material to radiate energetic particles and rays and transform to new materials. For example, the half-life of cesium (Cs-137) is 30 years after which time half of it decays to a non-radioactive stable nuclide, barium (Ba-137). If you start with 100 Kg of Cs-137 then after 30 years you will have 50 Kg of Cs-137 remaining. After 30 more years you will have 25 Kg of Cs-137 remaining and so on.

Hazardous Waste - A subset of solid wastes that pose substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment and meet any of the following criteria identified 40 CFR 260 and 261:

  • is specifically listed as a hazardous waste by EPA

  • exhibits one or more of the characteristics of hazardous waste (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and/or toxicity);

  • is generated by the treatment of hazardous waste; or is contained in a hazardous waste.

Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HWSA) - This 1984 Act amended RCRA and required phasing out land disposal of untreated hazardous waste by more stringent hazardous waste management standards (broken down into thirds with a time table for each third). Some of the other mandates of this law include increased enforcement authority for EPA and a program requiring corrective action.

High Level Radioactive Waste (HLW) - The radioactive waste material that results from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, including liquid waste produced directly from reprocessing and any solid waste derived from the liquid that contains a combination of transuranic and fission product nuclides in quantities that require permanent isolation. HLW is also a mixed waste because it has highly corrosive components or has organics or heavy metals that are regulated under RCRA. HLW may include other highly radioactive material that NRC, consistent with existing law, determines by rule requires permanent isolation.

Heavy Metal (RCRA Metals) - A common hazardous waste; can damage organisms at low concentrations and tends to accumulate in the food chain. Examples are Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Mercury.

Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) - These restrictions were mandated by the 1984 HSWA amendments to RCRA. They prohibit the disposal of hazardous wastes into or on the land unless the waste meets treatability standards of lower toxicity.

Liquid Scintillation Cocktail (LSC) - A common fluid used in medical laboratories to analyze DNA and proteins. It often uses radioactive tracers and RCRA listed hazardous materials such as Toluene and Xylene. The combination of the two make it a mixed waste. By volume it is the most common form of commercially generated (non-DOE) mixed waste (71% in a 1990 national study).

Low-Level Mixed Waste (LLMW) - LLMW is waste that contains LLRW and hazardous waste.

Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW or LLW) - LLRW is waste that satisfies the definition of LLRW in the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985. The LLRWPAA defines LLRW as "radioactive material that (A) is not high-level radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, or byproduct material as defined in section 11e.2 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954) and;(B) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, consistent with existing law and in accordance with paragraph (A), classifies as low-level radioactive waste." In a sense, LLRW is defined by what it is not and consequently is the most broad category of waste. It encompasses materials that are slightly above natural radiation background levels to highly radioactive materials which require extreme caution when handling (Greater than Class C - GTCC).

Mixed Transuranic Waste (MTRU) - MTRU contains both Transuranic (TRU) and hazardous wastes. Approximately 55% of DOE's TRU is MTRU.

Mixed Waste (MW) - MW contains both hazardous waste (as defined by RCRA and its amendments) and radioactive waste (as defined by AEA and its amendments). It is jointly regulated by NRC or NRC's Agreement States and EPA or EPA's RCRA Authorized States. The fundamental and most comprehensive statutory definition is found in the Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA) where Section 1004(41) was added to RCRA: "The term 'mixed waste' means waste that contains both hazardous waste and source, special nuclear, or byproduct material subject to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954."

Naturally Occuring or Accelerator Produced Radioactive Materials (NARM) - Radioactive materials not covered under the AEA that are naturally occurring or produced by an accelerator. Accerlerators are used in sub-atomic particle physics research. These materials have been traditionally regulated by States. A subset of NARM is NORM. NARM waste with more than 2 nCi/g of 226Ra or equivalent is commonly referred to as discrete NARM waste; below this threshold, the waste is referred to as diffuse NARM waste. NARM waste is not covered under the AEA, not a form of LLW, and is not regulated by NRC.

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) - NORM is a subset of NARM and refers to materials not covered under the AEA whose radioactivity has been enhanced (radionuclide concentrations are either increased or redistributed where they are more likely to cause exposure to man) usually by mineral extraction or processing activities. Examples are exploration and production wastes from the oil and natural gas industry and phosphate slag piles from the phosphate mining industry. This term is not used to describe or discuss the natural radioactivity of rocks and soils, or background radiation, but instead refers to materials whose radioactivity is technologically enhanced by controllable practices.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - NRC is an independent regulatory agency created out of the Atomic Energy Commision in 1975 to regulate the civilian uses of nuclear material. Specifically, the NRC is responsible for ensuring that activities associated with the operation of nuclear power plants and fuel cycle plants, and medical, industrial, and research applications, are carried out with adequate protection of the public health and safety, the environment, and national security. At full complement, the NRC has five Commissioners nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; the President designates one of the Commissioners as Chairman. NRC regulates all commercial AEA materials. Except in a few cases, NRC does not regulate DOE. NRC does not regulate NARM. This site ( will link you to NRC's HomePage.

Resource, Conservation, and Recovery Act (RCRA) - RCRA gave EPA authority to control hazardous waste from "cradle-to-grave." This includes the minimizaion, generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA also set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes. RCRA focuses only on active and future facilities and does not address abandoned or historical sites (see CERCLA).

Rad (Radiation Absorbed Dose)- One rad is defined as the absorption of 100 ergs per gram of material. The unit rad can be used for any type of radiation. The rad is a unit used to measure a quantity called absorbed dose. This relates to the amount of energy actually absorbed in some material, and is used for any type of radiation and any material.

Radiation - Ionizing radiation is comprised of highly energetic and penetrating x-rays and gamma rays and lesser penetrating particles. Beta particles are simply energetic electrons and alpha particles are helium nuclei both arising from the nucleus of a decaying atom. The alpha particle is the easiest of these radiations to stop and the gamma rays are the most difficult to shield against. A piece of paper can stop an alpha particle, but it may take as much as many inches of lead shielding to stop most of the x- rays or gamma rays in a beam. Depending on the dose, kind of radiation, and observed endpoint, the biological effects of radiation can differ widely. Ionizing radiation has been proven to cause cancer at high doses and is assumed to cause cancer and other deleterious health effects at low doses.

Rem (Roentgen Equivalent Man)- The rem is a unit used to derive a quantity called equivalent dose. This relates the absorbed dose in human tissue to the effective biological damage of the radiation. Equivalent dose is often expressed in terms of thousandths of a rem, or mrem.

Solid Waste - As defined under RCRA, any solid, semi-solid, liquid, or contained gaseous materials discarded from industrial, commercial, mining, or agricultural operations, and from community activities. Solid waste includes garbage, construction debris, commercial refuse, sludge from water supply or waste treatment plants, or air pollution control facilities, and other discarded materials. Solid waste does not include solid or dissolved materials in irrigation return flows or industrial discharges which are point sources subject to permits under section 402 of the Clean Water Act or souce, special nuclear, or byproduct material as defined by the AEA.

Source Material - Source Material is the Uranium or Thorium ores mined from the Earth. Source material is defined in 10 CFR 20.1003 as "(1) Uranium, or thorium or any combination of uranium and thorium in any physical or chemical form; or (2) Ores that contain, by weight, one-twentieth of 1 percent (0.05 percent), or more, of uranium, thorium, or any combination or uranium and thorium. Source material does not include special nuclear material."

Special Nuclear Material (SNM) - SNM is defined in 10 CFR 20.1003 as "(1) Plutonium, uranium-233, uranium enriched in the isotope 233 or in isotope 235, and any other material that the NRC, pursuant to the provisions of section 51 of the AEA, determines to be SNM, but does not include source material; (2) or any material artificially enriched by any of the foregoing but does not include source material." SNM is important in the fabrication of weapons grade materials and as such has strict licensing and handling controls.

Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) - Fuel is withdrawn from a nuclear reactor following irradiation and has undergone at least one year's decay since being used as a source of energy in a power reactor. SNF has not been chemically separated from its constituent elements by reporocessing. SNF includes the special nuclear material, byproduct amterial, source material, and other radioactive materials associated with fuel assemblies. See 10 CFR 72.3 for more details.

Storage-in-Decay - Radioactive elements will breakdown and yield energetic gamma rays and x-rays and particles. After enough time has elapsed (usually ten half-lives) the material has decayed to a point were a radiation survey meter cannot distinguish between it and natural background radiation levels.

Transuranic Radioactive Waste (TRU) - TRU waste contains more than 100 nanocuries of alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes, with half-lives greater than twenty years, per gram of waste, except for (1) high-level radioactive waste; (2) wastes that DOE has determined, with the concurrence of EPA, do not need the degree of isolation required by EPA's high level waste rule (40 CFR 191); or (3) has approved for disposal on a case-by-case basis in accordance with NRC's radioactive land disposal regulation (10 CFR Part 61). TRU is not generally found outside the DOE complex and is mainly produced from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, nuclear weapons production, and reactor fuel assembly. TRU wastes mainly emit alpha particles as they break-down. DOE is currently proceeding with plans for TRU waste disposal at a geologic repository called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. DOE categorizes TRU as either Contact Handled (CH) or Remote Handled (RH) with RH being the more radioactive of the two.

Vitrification - Vitrification is the process of converting materials into a glass-like substance, typically through a thermal process. Radionuclides and other inorganics are chemically bonded in the glass matrix. Consequently vitrified materials generally perform very well in leach tests. EPA has specified, under the land disposal restrictions, vitrification to be the treatment technology for high-level waste (55 FR 22627, June 1, 1990).

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) -The WIPP, which is managed by the Department of Energy (DOE), is a geologic disposal facility for transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste generated as by-products from DOE's nuclear weapons production. The WIPP is located underground in excavated, natural salt formations, near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Check out EPA's WIPP HomePage for more information.

Yucca Mountain - Located in Nevada, Yucca Mountain is being characterized as a potential geologic repository for High Level Waste, Spent Nuclear Fuel, and possibly for waste that is defined as Greater-than-Class-C (GTCC). A key element of permanent disposal is that it must be able to isolate highly radioactive waste for thousands of years because its radioactivity can harm people and the environment. According to the 1992 Energy Policy Act, EPA is to set generally applicable standards based upon public health and safety standards and be consistent with the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences for the protection of the public from releases from radioactive materials stored or disposed of in the repository at the Yucca Mountain site. Check out EPA's Yucca Mountain HomePage.

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