Radioactive Material

Radioactive Material

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) waste

Regulatory and legislative framework governing NORM waste management

Radiation exposure that is imposed on the public over and above natural background is subject, in Europe, to regulation. The regulatory framework in the Member States is derived from international standards, some of which are enacted in European law.

NORM waste has not always been considered clearly or comprehensively in international standards and legislation that provides the radiation protection framework for managing radioactive wastes. This lack of uniform standards, prevalent across many EU Member State countries, is probably the main source of the ambiguities in the regulation of NORM wastes that were described in the report commissioned to inform this draft strategy. The report concluded that there is a regulatory system that is fit for purpose to protect human health and the environment. In addition, certain ambiguities were highlighted which, while not causing risk to the environment or human health, create a lack of clarity and prevent the regulatory system from being fully effective in prompting the best outcomes for managing NORM waste.

International background to the regulation of NORM waste

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has worked since 1928 to develop an international system of radiological protection with recommendations and standards to underpin the development of national frameworks. For many years, the focus of these standards was on exposure to anthropogenic radionuclides. In the case of NORM the variable background radiation, and the difference in practices and tolerance towards NORM, slowed down the setting of international standards.

In 1996 the Euratom Community (comprising EU Member States) adopted a revised Basic Safety Standards Directive (Euratom BSS) to update the common legislative platform on radiological protection across the EU. The Euratom BSS provides flexibility for Member States in respect of activities producing NORM wastes. Negotiations on the latest revision of the BSS, which includes its consolidation with other Directives made under the Euratom Treaty relating to radiological protection, was completed in 2013. Member States will adopt the revised Euratom BSS in early 2014.

Other Euratom requirements impacting on NORM waste management include those imposed by Article 37 of the Euratom Treaty and the Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Management Directive.

Guidance issued by the European Commission [RP 122 Part II]

The document recommends that a higher level of exposure is acceptable from NORM than for radiation from the use of artificial radioactivity before regulation is necessary. The guidance cites the ubiquity and variability of background regulation as the reason for a higher exposure limit for NORM radiation. The Commission guidance sets a dose increment in addition to background exposure from natural radiation sources of 300 µSv/year as a threshold for regulatory controls and provides concentration limits for NORM in substances that reflect this dose increment. The concentration limits also have regard to the highest concentrations found in raw ores that are subsequently processed. The UK has adopted the Commission guidance in its regulation of NORM wastes. In contrast, in separate guidance (RP 122 Part I ), the Commission recommends a dose criterion of 10 μSv per year as the basis for regulating anthroprogenic practices.

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