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'We face so many complicated and difficult issues...that we need to attain new levels of citizen responsibility for learning about public problems and participating in their solution.'

Charles Peters
The Washington Monthly
January/February 1995



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New Jersey must find a way to dispose of the low-level radioactive waste produced by its industrial, medical, research and electrical generating industries.

Like all states, New Jersey is required by federal law to dispose of the low-level radioactive waste produced within its borders either by building a facility alone or within a ‘compact’ with other states. To comply with the law, and to meet a compelling need, New Jersey is seeking a community that, after careful consideration of the issues, will volunteer to host a disposal facility.


In a departure from the traditional ‘Decide, Announce, Defend’ method of siting a potentially controversial public facility, The New Jersey Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility Siting Board has adopted a fresh approach - an inclusive approach that involves communities at the front end of the process. This voluntary siting process recognizes that an informed public is vital if New Jersey is to successfully fulfill its responsibility to ensure the safe disposal of its low-level radioactive waste. This is an obligation we must address now, and not leave unresolved for future generations.


This booklet provides answers to some frequently asked questions about low-level radioactive waste—and what the State of New Jersey is doing to comply with the law and to find a solution to a pressing public problem.

If you have any questions or comments, or if you wish to obtain additional copies of this booklet or copies of New Jersey's Voluntary Plan for Siting a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility, please call or write:

New Jersey Low-Level Radioactive
Waste Disposal Facility Siting Board
CN 410, 44 South Clinton Avenue
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0410

Telephone 1-888-777-1588 (in NJ) or (609)777-4247

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Q What products and services
use radioactive materials?

A Many electrical generating, industrial, medical and research processes use radioactive materials.


The most widely known product is energy: well over half of the electricity used by New Jerseyans is generated by nuclear power plants. Medical Procedures

Many medical procedures used to diagnose and treat life-threatening diseases would be impossible without radioactive materials; in fact, one-third of all Americans hospitalized every year undergo medical procedures that use radiatioN:

New Medicines

At least 80% of all new medicines are developed using radioactive materials. This is particularly pertinent in New Jersey, which is home to many pharmaceutical companies.

Consumer Products

Radioactive materials are used in the production of consumer goods such as color televisions, smoke detectors, paper, photographic film, photocopiers, cosmetics, metal detectors, teflon cookware, tires, baby powder and disposable diapers. Structural Integrity

Radiographic inspection can find defects in a casting or weld in bridges, buildings, pipelines, and jet engines.

Crop Development

With radionuclides, scientists can develop crops with higher yields, and crops that resist disease.

Environmental Protection

By "tagging" a toxic chemical, scientists can trace its movement in the environment to help prevent exposure to humans.


Techniques using radioactive materials have revolutionized archaeology; carbon-dating, for example, is used to estimate the age of archaeological and historical artifacts, including the Shroud of Turin and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Low-level radioactive waste is the unavoidable by-product of many of these products and services.

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Q What is radiation?

A Radiation results from the release of excess energy from the nucleus of an atom. It is emitted from the atom in three forms: alpha and beta particles, and gamma rays.

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Q Is radiation safe?

A The potential hazard of any radiation depends on the level at which people are exposed. The average American is exposed annually to 360 millirems. (a millirem is the unit of measure of a person's exposure to radiation.)

Almost 300 millirems come from natural sources such as:


In large doses of tens of thousands or millions of millirems, radiation can cause sickness and death. Large doses of radiation have been shown to cause various reproductive problems, mental and growth retardation, and cancers.

The disposal facility, however, must meet an exposure level of no more than 25 millirems per person per year—less than one-tenth of natural background levels.

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Q What is low-level radioactive waste?

A 'Low-level radioactive waste' is a general term for a wide range of waste produced by the use of radioactive materials.

It includes common items such as

that have been contaminated by radioactive material.

It will also include materials - mostly concrete and metal - from the eventual decommissioning of New Jersey's four nuclear power plants.

Low-level radioactive waste is not spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors, by-products of uranium mining or waste materials from nuclear weapons facilities. The disposal of high-level radioactive waste is the responsibility of the federal government and will not occur in New Jersey.

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In New Jersey, over three-fifths of the volume - and over 90% of the radioactivity - of low-level radioactive waste is generated by nuclear power plants.

Research and development at universities, medical facilities and pharmaceutical companies accounts for about two-fifths of the volume and 7% of the radioactivity.

The vast majority of low-level radioactive waste decays to safe levels within 100 years. About 1%, however, will need to be isolated for up to 500 years, at which time it also will have decayed to safe levels.


Q Why don't the generators reduce
the volume of the waste they produce?

A They do. In New Jersey, the volume of low-level radioactive waste has been reduced to less than one-half of what it was 10 years ago.

The average annual volume disposed of in New Jersey from 1991 to 1994 was 35,000 cubic feet - about the size of nine two-car garages - compared to almost 200,000 cubic feet in 1980.

This reduction occurred, at least in part, because the cost of disposing of low-level radioactive waste has risen dramatically. When a disposal facility is operating in New Jersey, disposal costs will remain high, providing continued incentives for waste reduction.

New Jersey utilities, industries, hospitals and academic institutions have reduced the amount of waste they generate by instituting conservation and other waste management practices. Generators use hydraulic presses, for example, which can reduce waste that would fill a 55-gallon drum to about the size of a manhole cover.

When feasible, generators are substituting non-radioactive processes, or are using radionuclides on a smaller scale. In general, however, no satisfactory alternatives have been developed that offer the precision and other benefits inherent in radioactive materials.

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Q What happens to this waste today?

A Until New Jersey can build a facility, its low-level radioactive waste must either be shipped out of state or stored where it is generated, at about 100 sites across the state.

The only current out-of-state option is a facility in Barnwell, South Carolina which was open to New Jersey generators until June 1994, then closed to them for a year and then reopened. In addition to its unpredictability - access to Barnwell is subject to the policies of the Governor and Legislature in office at any given time - it has limited capacity and cannot accommodate New Jersey's long-term needs.

And on-site, or interim, storage is at best a band-aid approach to solving the pressing problem of how to safely manage this waste.

On-site storage has always been used by generators to store waste temporarily prior to shipment to a disposal facility, or to hold radio-active waste with a short half-life - that's the time it takes for a radioactive material to lose one-half of its radioactivity - until it decays to safe levels and can be properly disposed of.

Most of the generators, however, cannot store waste on-site indefinitely; many are located in densely populated areas with limited space for expansion.

Long-term storage of low-level radioactive waste at multiple locations also poses potential health and safety risks. These risks can be avoided by construction of a facility designed to provide safe isolation of the waste for periods of time longer than many industries, hospitals and universities can be expected to manage this waste.

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Q What is a disposal facility? What could it look like?

A A low-level radioactive waste disposal site includes


New Jersey's facility will be designed to accept waste for up to 50 years and isolate it for hundreds of years. Its size will depend on the design selected and the expected volume of waste to be disposed of over the life of the facility.

Low-level radioactive waste will be trucked - in solid form and in secure containers - to the disposal facility. After being placed in concrete vaults, the containers will be surrounded by multiple barriers to keep the radioactive contents isolated from the environment. No processing of waste will occur on-site.

The design of the facility, including whether it will be above or below ground, will be determined after a thorough evaluation of local geology and hydrology, and the preference of the host community.

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Q Would such a disposal facility be safe?_How can we be sure that it will be safe?

A To ensure public safety, a potential site will be subjected to an extensive examination and evaluation of all aspects of its physical characteristics, including its geology and hydrology.

The site must be in a stable area that

Related concerns such as land use, cultural resources and potential social and economic impacts of the site will be considered as well.

The disposal facility will have multiple features designed to isolate the waste by diverting away water. There will also be strict administrative controls on the packaging of the waste and on the operation of the facility.


Federal law requires that the facility have a continuous monitoring system which will allow the early detection, location and correction of any migration of radioactive material should this ever occur. Monitoring will include regular sampling and analysis of the air, soil, groundwater, and plant and animal life around the disposal site.

The operators of the facility must be able to demonstrate that they can limit any radiation exposure from the facility to less than 25 millirems per year - less than one-tenth of the radiation that an average American receives annually from natural sources. In decades of environmental monitoring at operating - and closed - low-level radioactive waste disposal sites, there is no evidence of anyone having been exposed to radiation from these facilities in excess of 25 millirems per year.

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A How is New Jersey going about finding a suitable site for this disposal facility?

Q To comply with the federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act, the State Legislature in 1987 enacted a law which created The New Jersey Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility Siting Board. Its mission is to ensure the safe disposal of the low-level radioactive waste generated in the state.

The Siting Board is comprised of nine citizens appointed by the Governor with the consent of the State Senate, and representatives of the Commissioners of Health and Environmental Protection. It is assisted in its efforts by a 13-member Advisory Committee, also appointed by the Governor with Senate confirmation.


Because The Siting Board and the Advisory Committee believe that the active involvement of New Jersey residents is crucial to the success of the siting process, The Board is seeking - and creating - opportunities for open discussion and exchange of information to air questions and concerns in communities across the State.

Local acceptance of a disposal site requires sharing information on the need for the site; health, safety and environmental issues; and the array of benefits, incentives and compensation that will be made available to the host community. The host community and The Siting Board will negotiate an agreement that spells out the community's conditions for hosting the facility, the benefits the community will receive, and the long-term role the community will play in monitoring and otherwise overseeing the facility. This agreement will become legally binding when signed by both parties.

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Q Why doesn't the State just pick a site for this facility?

A The Siting Board believes that many sites in New Jersey would be suitable for the disposal facility, and that a voluntary siting approach is the most fair and equitable for finding a site that meets technical requirements and local acceptance.

The Board believes that this approach will give local residents the chance to decide if, after weighing perceived risks and the array of benefits, hosting this disposal facility is right for their community.

The Siting Board also recognizes that, although people enjoy the benefits of technology and may acknowledge the need for facilities to manage the waste that technology produces, no one likes to have something, particularly a potentially controversial facility, forced upon them.

In February 1995, The Board adopted New Jersey's Voluntary Plan for siting a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility. This innovative approach to siting is intended to foster a partnership between State and local officials and residents. It encourages communities to actively participate in the siting process from beginning to end. It recognizes that an informed public is a key component to the ultimate success of New Jersey's efforts to meet its responsibility.

Copies of the Voluntary Siting Plan may be obtained by contacting The Siting Board.

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Q What benefits would a community receive for hosting this facility?

A The Siting Board believes that the residents of the community in which the disposal facility is built deserve annual financial compensation and other benefits because they will be providing a necessary service to the entire State.

Some of these benefits are spelled out in the legislation that established The Siting Board; others are subject to negotiation with The Board.

They include:

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Q How will low-level radioactive waste be transported to the disposal facility?

A By truck. The 35,000 cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste generated annually in New Jersey would fill about 100 trucks the size of a parcel delivery van.

The frequency and timing of deliveries to the disposal facility will be open to negotiation with the host community. Because all waste must be packaged before it arrives at the disposal site, handling radioactive materials at the disposal facility will be minimized.

To ensure safety, generators must pack the waste securely before they can transport it. Each package must be accompanied by a document that lists the source, class, type, quantity, destination and other pertinent information about its contents. When properly managed, packaged and handled, low-level radioactive waste does not pose a danger to the public. Accordingly, the federal government has established strict rules governing the management of this waste from its point of generation to its point of disposal.


Nationally, some 15,000 shipments of low-level radioactive waste are made in sealed containers to disposal facilities every year. Their transportation is closely regulated and monitored by a network of federal, state and local agencies.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there has never been a radiologically related death or injury as a result of a transportation accident.

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Q Although this facility may be safe when it is first built, how can we be sure that it won't become hazardous over time?

A The operator of the low-level radioactive waste disposal facility that will be built in New Jersey will be required to comply with strict technical requirements set by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

These requirements govern every phase in the life of a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility, from choosing a location to operating the facility to providing for maintenance and security after it eventually closes.

Federal law requires that the facility have a continuous monitoring system that will allow the early detection, location and correction of any migration of radioactive material should this ever occur. Monitoring will include regular sampling and analysis of the air, soil, groundwater, and plant and animal life around the disposal site.

In addition, two separate funds specifically required by federal regulation will provide financial assurance. One functions, in effect, as an insurance policy; it will cover any costs related to unanticipated closure of the facility during the period it is expected to accept waste. The other, which is similar to a perpetual care fund, will cover any costs related to maintenance and monitoring for at least 100 years after the facility closes and no longer accepts waste. The money will come from fees paid by the users of the disposal facility. The facility will not be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission until these funding mechanisms are established.

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Q Who is going to pay to construct, operate and maintain this facility?

A The generators of New Jersey's low-level radioactive waste will pay all costs related to the siting, construction, operation, and eventual closing and ongoing monitoring of the disposal facility.

The facility, which will be owned by the State or by the federal government, will be operated by a private company under contract with The Siting Board. The operator will be selected through a public bidding process and will be responsible for obtaining the necessary license and permits for the facility. Operation of the facility will be subject to federal, State and local regulations.

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Q When does this facility have to become operational?

A There is no set timetable. The sooner a facility is built, however, the less risk there is that low-level radioactive waste disposal will become a crisis in New Jersey.

From July 1994 until July 1995, waste had to be stored on a temporary basis where it was produced, at some 100 facilities located across New Jersey. A change in policy by South Carolina reopened the Barnwell facility to most states as of July 1, 1995. South Carolina may continue to allow states access for waste disposal until Barnwell reaches its capacity in about 10 years; or officials could decide to close it sooner. Once Barnwell closes to New Jersey's waste, many power plants, hospitals, universities, research labs and pharmaceutical firms will fill their on-site interim storage space in 5-10 years. Regardless of the exact closing date at Barnwell, New Jersey needs to build and operate its own disposal facility as soon as possible.

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Q Suppose my town asks for more information and then decides it definitely does not want to host the facility?

A That's fine. The Siting Board is committed to the principle that communities that pursue the possibility of hosting the disposal facility should have open and inclusive public discussion, both in their municipality and in the surrounding area, before choosing to make any commitment.

A community can opt to remove itself from consideration at any time before a binding legal agreement is executed between the community and The Siting Board. There will be a period of at least 18 months from the time a community initially expresses interest to when it would sign a binding agreement that would be drafted jointly with The Siting Board.

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Q What will happen if no community volunteers to host the disposal facility?

A Then The Siting Board will have to go back to the drawing board and, in consultation with the Governor and the Legislature, reassess how New Jersey can best proceed to meet its waste disposal responsibility.

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The Siting Board welcomes your ideas about its efforts to find a site for New Jersey's low-level radioactive waste. If you have any suggestions, questions or comments, please write or call:

New Jersey Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility Siting Board
CN 410, 44 South Clinton Avenue
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0410

Telephone: 1-888-777-1558 (in NJ)
Fax: (609)777-4252

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Last updated September 1997