[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 190 (Friday, September 30, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 60941-60945]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-25243]


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NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

[NRC-2011-0217]


Policy Regarding Submittal of Amendments for Processing of 
Equivalent Feed at Licensed Uranium Recovery Facilities

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Regulatory issue summary; request for comment.

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SUMMARY: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is proposing to 
issue a regulatory issue summary (RIS) to inform addressees of the 
NRC's policy regarding receipt and processing, without a license 
amendment, of equivalent feed at an NRC and Agreement State-licensed 
uranium recovery site, either conventional, heap leach, or in situ 
recovery.

DATES: Submit comments by October 31, 2011. Comments submitted after 
this date will be considered if it is practical to do so, but assurance 
of consideration cannot be given except for comments received on or 
before this date.

ADDRESSES: Please include Docket ID NRC-2011-0217 in the subject line 
of your comments. For additional instructions on submitting comments 
and instructions on accessing documents related to this action, see 
``Submitting Comments and Accessing Information'' in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section of this document. You may submit comments by any 
one of the following methods:
     Federal Rulemaking Web Site: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for documents filed under Docket ID NRC-
2011-0217. Address questions about NRC dockets to Carol Gallagher, 
telephone: 301-492-3668; e-mail: Carol.Gallagher@nrc.gov.
     Mail comments to: Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, 
Announcements, and Directives Branch (RADB), Office of Administration, 
Mail Stop: TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, 
DC 20555-0001.

[[Page 60942]]

     Fax comments to: RADB at 301-492-3446.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:  Mr. Ted Carter, Office of Federal and 
State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, Division of 
Waste Management and Environmental Protection, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission, Washington, DC 20555- 0001, telephone: 301-415-5543 or e-
mail: Ted.Carter@nrc.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Submitting Comments and Accessing Information

    Comments submitted in writing or in electronic form will be posted 
on the NRC Web site and on the Federal rulemaking Web site, http://www.regulations.gov. Because your comments will not be edited to remove 
any identifying or contact information, the NRC cautions you against 
including any information in your submission that you do not want to be 
publicly disclosed.
    The NRC requests that any party soliciting or aggregating comments 
received from other persons for submission to the NRC inform those 
persons that the NRC will not edit their comments to remove any 
identifying or contact information, and therefore, they should not 
include any information in their comments that they do not want 
publicly disclosed.
    You can access publicly available documents related to this 
document using the following methods:
     NRC's Public Document Room (PDR): The public may examine 
and have copied, for a fee, publicly available documents at the NRC's 
PDR, O1-F21, One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 
Maryland 20852.
     NRC's Agencywide Documents Access and Management System 
(ADAMS): Publicly available documents created or received at the NRC 
are available online in the NRC Library at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. From this page, the public can gain entry into ADAMS, 
which provides text and image files of the NRC's public documents. If 
you do not have access to ADAMS or if there are problems in accessing 
the documents located in ADAMS, contact the NRC's PDR reference staff 
at 1-800-397-4209, 301-415-4737, or by e-mail to pdr.resource@nrc.gov. 
This Federal Register notice is available through ADAMS under Accession 
Number ML112290011.
     Federal Rulemaking Web Site: Public comments and 
supporting materials related to this notice can be found at http://www.regulations.gov by searching on Docket ID NRC-2011-0217.
    The NRC's generic communications may be found on the NRC public Web 
site at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/.

Draft NRC Regulatory Issue Summary 2011-xxxx: NRC Policy Regarding 
Submittal of Amendments for Processing of Equivalent Feed at Licensed 
Uranium Recovery Facilities

Addressees

    U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensed uranium recovery 
facilities; all holders of NRC operating licenses for water treatment; 
all companies that have submitted applications to construct all types 
of new uranium recovery facilities (conventional mills, heap leach 
facilities, and in situ recovery (ISR) facilities); and all Radiation 
Control Program Directors and State Liaison Officers.

Intent

    In 2000, the NRC developed RIS 00-23, ``Recent Changes to Uranium 
Recovery Policy,'' (ADAMS Accession No. MLXXXXXXXX) to address 
licensing issues related to processing of alternate feed at uranium 
recovery sites. The NRC is issuing this RIS to clarify the agency's 
policy that receipt and processing, of ``equivalent feed'' \1\ (resin 
media) at an NRC-licensed uranium recovery facility, whether 
conventional, heap leach, or ISR does not require a license amendment 
when the resin being used is chemically and physically essentially the 
same and would be processed using existing equipment at the facility. 
It is not the intent of this RIS to change the policy expressed in RIS 
00-23 or redefine the definition of alternate feed. Rather, it 
clarifies that inclusion of resin media into the alternate feed 
category is inconsistent with the original intent of RIS 00-23 and with 
technology now in existence in the uranium recovery industry.
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    \1\ For the purposes of this RIS, equivalent feed is: ion 
exchange (IX) resin that is loaded with uranium at a facility other 
than a licensed uranium recovery facility, such as water treatment 
plants or mine dewatering operations.
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Background

    As stated above, the NRC is issuing this RIS to clarify the NRC's 
policy regarding alternate feed. In SECY-99-01, ``Use of Uranium Mill 
Tailings Impoundments for the Disposal of Other Than 11e.(2) Byproduct 
Materials, and Reviews of Applications to Process Material Other Than 
Natural Uranium Ores,'' (ADAMS Accession No. MLXXXXXXXX) the staff 
defines alternate feed as material other than natural uranium ores. 
Alternate feed can, therefore, be certain wastes, including sludges or 
soils, from other sites that contains recoverable amounts of uranium. 
The RIS 00-23 provided guidance on evaluating requests for a license 
amendment for a uranium recovery facility (i.e., conventional mill) to 
accept this material, recover the uranium, and dispose of the tailings 
(i.e., waste material) as byproduct material in the mill tailings 
impoundment. However, the NRC staff finds the resin from certain source 
material operations, such as community water treatment facilities and 
mine dewatering operations, are equivalent to the resin being used at 
uranium recovery facilities (e.g. ISRs or conventional mills/heap leach 
facilities using ion exchange circuits). In the ISR method, ore is not 
extracted from the ground for processing at a mill. Rather, the ore is 
processed in-situ with the resulting uranium-bearing fluids being 
passed through IX resins to extract the uranium. The NRC staff based 
this finding on the fact that the resins are chemically and physically 
essentially the same, and would be processed in the same way, as resins 
used in normal uranium recovery operations.
    In December 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 
enacted a drinking water limit of 30 [mu]g/L of uranium in drinking 
water. This limit applied to Community Water Systems (CWSs), which the 
EPA defines as public water systems that supply water to the same 
population year-round. For small CWSs that are required to remove 
uranium from drinking water to meet EPA standards, the transport, 
treatment, and disposal of treatment residuals (e.g., uranium loaded 
treatment resin) can be a significant cost. It has been noted by the 
EPA that for small-scale CWSs, handling of treatment residuals such as 
uranium-loaded resin may account for 50 percent of their total 
operating budget.\2\ This financial burden has led some stake holders 
to urge the EPA to reconsider its regulations related to uranium in 
drinking water, including the waste disposal requirements for such 
materials.
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    \2\ The EPA currently defines uranium-loaded resin generated by 
drinking water treatment to remove the uranium as a Technically-
Enhanced Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) that 
requires disposal at a facility permitted under Subtitle C or D of 
the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA).
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    Related to the issue above, the NRC staff has been queried by 
representatives of the uranium recovery industry and

[[Page 60943]]

uranium water treatment suppliers/operators about the potential for 
uranium recovery facilities to accept and process uranium-loaded resin 
(ULR) generated by drinking water treatment because the ULR can be 
processed in an ISR operator's ion exchange recovery circuit. However, 
in the absence of this clarification provided by this RIS, the ISR 
uranium recovery facility would be required to submit, and have the NRC 
approve, an amendment to its NRC license prior to receiving and 
processing such resins. An amendment would be required because without 
this clarification these resins would be considered an alternate feed, 
despite the fact that such resins are essentially the same as those 
resins currently used at ISR facilities during uranium recovery 
operations.

Summary of Issue

    Currently, the only options for the disposition of resins generated 
from operations other than uranium recovery operations (i.e., treating 
drinking water sources and mine dewatering) are processing as alternate 
feed at a mill or disposal in landfills permitted under the RCRA or 
licensed by the NRC or an Agreement State. Under past interpretations 
of RIS 00-23, a license amendment would be required for an NRC-licensed 
uranium recovery facility to accept uranium-bearing resins resulting 
from treatment of community water supplies. The staff has determined 
that this interpretation does not reflect present day operating 
practices in the uranium recovery industry and is not consistent with 
the Commission's intent in issuing RIS 00-23. In particular, the NRC 
staff has determined that NRC and Agreement State-licensed uranium 
recovery facilities should be permitted to accept these resins as 
equivalent feed without the need for a license amendment so long as the 
receiving facility can demonstrate that processing the equivalent feed 
stays within the facilities' existing safety and environmental review 
envelope.
    The basis for the staff's position relates to the original intent 
of RIS 00-23. The RIS 00-23, and the underlying Commission decision, 
was intended to address a concern that without restrictions on the 
processing of material other than natural ore, a conventional uranium 
recovery mill could process any material containing uranium and dispose 
the waste in the ``tailings pile'' (see Page A2 of SECY-99-011, [INSERT 
TITLE AND ADAMS ML]) resulting in what was then-termed ``sham-
disposal'' (see SECY-09-012, [INSERT TITLE AND ADAMS ML]) (i.e. waste 
material that would otherwise have to be disposed of as radioactive or 
mixed waste would be proposed for processing at a uranium mill 
primarily to be able to dispose that material in the tailings pile as 
11e.(2) byproduct material). Thus, material very dissimilar to the 
material normally processed at a conventional mill, would be processed 
largely to allow disposal as 11e.(2) byproduct material. In the case of 
ULR, the concern addressed in RIS 00-23 is not at issue. The ULRs are 
essentially the same as resins used to extract uranium at an in-situ 
recovery facility and the resulting processing and waste products would 
be the same as those associated with normal in-situ uranium recovery 
operations. Also similar to ISR resin, ULR is designed to only capture 
uranium and not other hazardous constituents.
    Consequently, in this guidance, the staff is defining the term 
``equivalent feed'' to apply to those circumstances where the feed 
material is essentially the same in physical form and radiological 
content as the source material that is normally processed at a uranium 
recovery facility. For the purpose of this RIS, equivalent feed is IX 
resin that is loaded with uranium at a facility other than a licensed 
uranium recovery facility, such as water treatment plants or mine 
dewatering operations. However, it should be noted that processing of 
these resins for source material would need to occur before any waste 
would be considered as 11e.(2) byproduct material.
    To constitute equivalent feed, resin must be chemically and 
physically essentially the same to that which is currently used at 
licensed uranium recovery facilities and must not result in additional 
waste streams or risks not assessed during the process of licensing the 
receiving uranium recovery facility. For example, a typical uranium 
treatment resin for drinking water (Z-92[reg]) is produced by Lanxess 
(also known as Sybron Chemicals). The Z-92[reg] resin is essentially 
the same in composition and function to the Dow 21K resin, the typical 
ion exchange resin used at most uranium recovery facilities. A 
comparison of the product information of Z-92[reg] resin to that of Dow 
21K resin indicates the following:

--Both are a strong-base, Type I anion exchange resin;
--The composition of both is divynylbenzene (dvb) styrene;
--The functional group of both is a quarternary amine;
--The physical form of both is resin beads with essentially the same 
bulk weight, color, and amine odor;
--The Z-92[reg] resin is available in a similar bead-size range to that 
of Dow 21K;
--Water Remediation Technologies, Inc. identifies the Z-92[reg] resin 
as selective for uranium; the Dow 21K resin is also selective for 
uranium.

    The primary difference between the Z-92[reg] and the typical 
uranium recovery IX resin is that the water treatment resin is marked 
and packaged specifically for use in potable water systems and, 
therefore, undergoes an additional step of the Water Quality 
Association testing for certification to ANSI/NSF Standard 61.
    Given that ULRs are essentially the same as those resins processed 
at an in-situ recovery central processing plant; the staff sees no 
basis for requiring that an in-situ mill operator obtain a license 
amendment to process this essentially same material. The same process 
is also used for eluting or recovering uranium from water treatment and 
ISR resins. Therefore, the NRC staff believes that water treatment 
resins should be defined as equivalent feed. Thus, the processing of 
equivalent feed at a licensed in-situ recovery facility will not 
require an amendment to an existing license so long as the existing 
limits on production of uranium in the license are not exceeded and 
that the processing is within the existing safety and environmental 
review envelope.
    Mine dewatering operations involve the extraction of water from 
surface or underground mines and, when necessary, the treatment of 
extracted water to remove pollutants prior to discharge. Mine 
dewatering is often necessary to allow miners to safely extract ore. In 
the case of uranium mine dewatering, extracted water is often treated 
by ion exchange to remove uranium prior to discharge. These ion 
exchange resins must either be disposed in a landfill or could be 
eluted at a uranium recovery facility. It should be noted that in the 
past, mine dewatering resins have been treated as alternate feed at 
conventional mills (57 FR 20532). These license amendments were 
required because at that time, the staff considered the mine dewatering 
resins to be processed or refined ore distinct from natural ore 
normally processed at a conventional mill. However, if a conventional 
mill has an existing IX processing circuit, either as part of its 
conventional milling process or a separate process line, it may accept 
equivalent feed without a license amendment.
    For example, upon staff inquiry, Kennecott Uranium Company stated 
that its mine dewatering resin is the

[[Page 60944]]

Dow 21K resin that is discussed above, which is the same resin used at 
ISR facilities. Therefore, the staff determined that mine dewatering 
resins, like loaded resins from CWSs, can be more appropriately 
classified as equivalent feed when they are sent for processing at a 
uranium recovery facility.
    After processing the equivalent feed, the spent resin can be 
disposed as byproduct material in the same manner as the resin used in 
the primary uranium recovery activity. Disposal sites could either be 
existing mill tailings impoundments or other disposal facilities 
licensed by the NRC or Agreement States. No additional disposal 
requirements are necessary. This approach benefits our national 
interest by recovering a valuable resource and the environment by 
providing additional options instead of disposal for this material. 
Alternately, the unloaded resin may be returned to the water treatment 
facility, a mine dewatering facility, or a licensed uranium recovery 
facility for reuse. This is an economic benefit to the treatment 
facility (particularly CWSs) since operating costs are reduced and also 
results in less overall disposal of resin.
    Enclosure 1 to this RIS offers additional information, which 
addressees may find useful, about uranium recovery processing of 
equivalent feed. Enclosure 2 contains procedures which the NRC finds 
satisfactory for accepting equivalent feed.

Voluntary Response

    All addresses and the public may voluntarily submit comments on the 
policy regarding submittal of amendments for processing of equivalent 
feed at licensed uranium recovery facilities presented in this RIS. To 
be of use to the NRC, responses should be submitted by October 31, 
2011.

Backfit Discussion

    This RIS requires no action or written response. Any action that 
addressees take to implement changes or procedures in accordance with 
the information contained in this RIS ensures compliance with current 
regulations, is strictly voluntary, and, therefore, is not a backfit 
under any of the backfitting provisions contained in Title 10 of the 
Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) 50.109, 70.76, 72.62, 76.76, or 
the issue finality provision of 10 CFR part 52. Consequently, the staff 
did not perform a backfit analysis.

Federal Register Notice

    To be done after the public comment period.

Congressional Review Act

    This RIS is a rule as designated in the Congressional Review Act (5 
U.S.C. 801-886) and, therefore, is subject to the Act.

Related Generic Communications

    RIS 00-23, ``Recent Changes to Uranium Recovery Policy.''

Paperwork Reduction Act Statement

    This RIS references information collection requirements that are 
subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et 
seq.). These information collection requirements were approved by the 
Office of Management and Budget, approval numbers 3150-0020.

Public Protection Notification

    The NRC may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to 
respond to, a request for information or an information collection 
requirement unless the requesting document displays a currently valid 
OMB control number.

Enclosures

    1. Uranium Recovery Processing of Equivalent Feed: Additional 
Information.
    2. Procedure for Accepting Equivalent Feed.

Uranium Recovery Processing of Equivalent Feed: Additional Information

    Processing of equivalent feed from water treatment plants and mine 
dewatering operations at uranium recovery facilities (e.g. in-situ 
recovery (ISR) or conventional mills/heap leach facilities with ion 
exchange circuits) results in a lower overall environmental impact and 
is the preferred option when compared to disposal of these resins in a 
Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA)-permitted landfill or NRC 
and Agreement State licensed landfill. Transportation impacts are 
similar since in either option, the resin is trucked to an isolated 
location away from population centers (RCRA-permitted or NRC/Agreement 
State licensed landfill or a uranium recovery facility). Although 
disposal of equivalent feed in a lined RCRA-permitted landfill or NRC/
Agreement State licensed landfill provides short term isolation, the 
long term environmental and financial liability associated with 
potential landfill failure coupled with the societal benefit of putting 
the uranium into the nuclear fuel cycle results in uranium recovery 
facility processing of equivalent feed, such as uranium-loaded water 
treatment and mine dewatering resin, as the preferred environmental 
option.
    Processing water treatment resins as equivalent feed provides a 
significant cost benefit to small Community Water Systems. For these 
small water treatment operators, disposal at RCRA-permitted or NRC/
Agreement State licensed landfills is cost prohibitive. Although, at 
this time, it is not possible to know the exact financial arrangements 
between the water treatment and uranium recovery facilities with 
respect to the processing of equivalent feed, it is reasonable to 
assume that the financial arrangements would be significantly more 
beneficial to the small water treatment operators than landfill 
disposal.

Procedures for Accepting Equivalent Feed

    In situ recovery facilities (ISRs) or conventional mills with ion 
exchange circuits may accept equivalent feed, as defined in this 
regulatory issue summary, without a license amendment. The licensee 
should document that the received resins meet the equivalent feed 
criteria by being: (1) Chemically and physically essentially the same 
as the resins processed at the facility; (2) processed the same way as 
resins processed at the facility; and (3) processing the equivalent 
feed material stays within the existing safety and environmental review 
envelope for the facility. The NRC inspectors will review this 
documentation during the inspection process to verify that the received 
resins meet the equivalent feed criteria such that the licensee's 
processing of the material can be considered consistent with their 
license.
    Following elution of the uranium-loaded equivalent feed (i.e., 
removal of the uranium from the treatment resin), the resulting 
unloaded resin can take two paths. Since the NRC is allowing equivalent 
feed to be processed at uranium recovery facilities, the wastes 
associated with processing equivalent feed (i.e., unloaded resin) are 
considered byproduct material, as defined in Title 10 of the Code of 
Federal Regulations part 40. Therefore, these wastes may be disposed of 
at an NRC-licensed facility without further documentation. Alternately, 
the unloaded resin may be returned to a water treatment facility, a 
mine dewatering facility or a licensed uranium recovery facility for 
reuse.

[[Page 60945]]

Contact

    If you have any questions about this summary, please contact Mr. 
Ted Carter, Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental 
Management Programs, Division of Waste Management and Environmental 
Protection, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555- 
0001, telephone: 301-415-5543 or e-mail: Ted.Carter@nrc.gov.

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 22nd day of September 2011.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Larry W. Camper,
Director, Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection, 
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management 
Programs.
[FR Doc. 2011-25243 Filed 9-29-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P