New Orleans Times Picayune June 3, 2005 PANEL SETS ASIDE PROPOSAL ON NUCLEAR WASTE By H. Josef Hebert, The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has put on hold a proposal to allow some very low-level radioactive waste to be routinely put into public landfills or recycled instead of shipped to special disposal sites. By a 5-0 vote, the commission decided against issuing a final regulation on the matter, although it did not rule out considering the issue again in the future. The agency's staff had recommended that the rule change be approved, saying the waste under consideration has such a low level of radioactivity that it does not pose a public health risk. The NRC acted earlier this week, but the vote only became public Friday in a news release from several environmental and nuclear industry watchdog groups. The groups applauded the action, saying the proposed rule change would have allowed radioactive material to be mixed with normal garbage and reused in consumer products and in roadbeds. NRC spokesman Elliott Brenner, confirming the commission's action, said the agency did not reject the proposal outright. "It is in a holding pattern because of higher priorities. That's not to rule out looking at it again later," he said. "Most of these materials have no residual radioactivity," he said. "Some have very small amounts, so low that potential exposure to the public would have negligible impact." Brenner said the commission decided to put the issue aside because of the "urgent need to put resources in higher priority areas" such as nuclear power plant security and a rush of applications for power reactor relicensing. The material subject to the proposed rule change is located at nuclear power plants and other facilities licensed by the NRC and includes such items as office furniture, tools, equipment, routine trash, soil and concrete. Diane D'Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resources Service, a watchdog group, said the NRC's decision is "a victory for public health and environmental protection," although she expressed concern that the agency might reverse course. "The NRC clearly backed down from this crazy idea because it recognized the firestorm of public concern that would be triggered," said Daniel Hirsch, head of the Los Angeles-based Community to Bridge the Gap. "The public doesn't want radioactive waste in their local garbage dump, children's braces or tools."