Storing Radioactive Materials: Top 3 Steps to Follow for Safe Storage

Last Updated On Mar 30, 2022

Similar to the packaging, transporting, and disposal of radioactive waste, there are detailed laws and regulations concerning storing radioactive materials, which fall within the hazardous waste category. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates hazardous waste, including radioactive waste. Strict adherence to requirements for the storage of radioactive waste is Vital to the safety of your employees and to the protection of the environment through the minimization of the risks of leaks and spills. Storage needs can be long-term or short-term, but in every case, it is important to be diligent in three areas: storage area selection, storage container choice, and spill containment.

1. Selecting a Storage Area for Your Radioactive Materials

There are rules guiding the handling, storing, and disposing of radioactive materials, which you must strictly adhere to — meaning you need to know how to store radioactive waste onsite at the point of waste generation or offsite in an approved storage facility. Implementing proper storage solutions for radioactive materials is essential for human safety, minimizing the risk of environmental contamination, and avoiding large Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fines for regulatory non-compliance.

When you're ready to select your storage area for your radioactive waste, you need to take several things into consideration, such as:

  • The type of waste stored, i.e., solid, liquid, contained gaseous material
  • Quantity of waste
  • Expected number and shape of waste containers needing storage
  • Possible exposure to heat from excessive temperature or fire
  • Exposure to weather
  • Possibility of people coming into contact with the stored hazardous waste containers
  • Separation from incompatible materials

By understanding each of the above items, you'll be in a better position to figure out the size of the storage area needed to store your radioactive materials and the particular regulations you must follow.

Storage Options

Radioactive waste can be stored (onsite or offsite) until it has either decayed to the point where it becomes ordinary waste within the maximum storage period allowed and can be transported to a landfill or until the quantity of waste meets the maximum amount allowed for storage at any time- before it requires transport and disposal to a different location.

The storage options include:

  • Above ground storage inside or outside
  • Below ground storage
  • Offsite storage inside or outside

How long can radioactive waste be stored onsite? The RCRA storage requirements dictate how much and how long you can store radioactive waste.

  • SQGs can accumulate up to 13,228 lbs. of hazardous waste onsite for up to 180 days.
  • SQGs can accumulate up to 13,228 lbs. of hazardous waste onsite for up to 270 days if the waste is transported more than 200 miles away for recovery, treatment, or disposal.
  • Waste generated in small amounts (SDGs) can store the waste in a satellite accumulation area at or near the point where waste is generated but is limited to 55 gallons; when the quantity exceeds 55 gallons, it must be transferred to a 180-day or 270-day storage area.
  • LDGs must comply with the complete set of hazardous waste regulations. Facilities cannot accumulate waste for more than 90 days onsite. After 90 days, LDGs must be transported to a certified waste disposal facility or a “Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility” or TSDF.

Bottom line: the answer to the question, “How long can radioactive waste be stored,” is it depends on the type of waste.

2. Choosing the Right Storage Containers for Your Waste Type

After selecting the storage site for storing radioactive materials, the second step is selecting the right storage containers for the waste type to maximize space utilization. Again, there are general container rules and more specific rules that apply to the containment of different types of waste.

The general requirements say that radioactive waste containers should:

  • Always be kept in good condition
  • Be made of a material or lined with material that is compatible with the hazardous waste stored
  • Sealable to prevent accidental spills and to keep other substances out but allows for adding or removing waste
  • Able to properly hold the contents to minimize risk of spillage
  • Be properly marked with the words “HAZARDOUS WASTE, the type of hazardous waste, and the date the waste was generated
  • Be inspected weekly, and an inspection record maintained

Containers for above-ground storage need to be able to withstand the environmental conditions that exist inside and outside the facility. The containers stored inside should be stored off the ground. Traditional storage containers for hazardous materials include rigid metal drums or barrels, metal boxes, tanks, railroad cars, and tanker trucks. There are also many flexible waste packaging options available on the market.

For example, PacTec has developed flexible waste packaging suitable for nuclear waste, defined as low level mixed waste (LLMW), radioactive lead solids (RLS) or Type IP-1, Type IP-2, or 7A Type A IP-3. PacTec also developed low specific activity (LSA) and surface contaminated object (SCO) overpacks and UN certified flexible packaging options.

We’d recommend checking out our previous article titled “Choosing the Best Container for Radioactive Waste” to learn more about which packaging solutions will meet government regulations and provide your company with the most efficient and cost-effective options.

3. Plan Ahead for Spills

In addition to selecting the right hazardous waste packaging for your waste type, you should also consider a spill containment solution to prevent any radioactive material from reaching the ground in the event of an accidental spill or container leak during storage. Mistakes happen, and spills can–and likely will–occur. It’s best to take the necessary precautions to ensure your jobsite stays in compliance to avoid shutdowns or fines.

Secondary spill containment systems are required by the EPA and regulated by the spill prevention control and countermeasures rules. According to the EPA, facilities that are subjected to spill containment regulations are:

  • Storing, transferring, using, or consuming oil products, such as diesel fuel, gasoline, lube oil, hydraulic oil, adjuvant oil, crop oil, vegetable oil, or animal fat.
  • Storing more than 1,320 gallons of product in above-ground containers or more than 42,000 gallons in completely buried containers.
  • Reasonably expected to discharge oil to navigable waters of the U.S. or adjoining shorelines, such as lakes, rivers, and streams.

There are various instances where spills can happen throughout the waste collection, storage, and transportation process. PacTec offers spill containment berms that minimize the risk of spills which will keep you in compliance and reduce the cost and time it takes to clean up spills.

Partner with Experts to Simplify the Decision-Making Process

The complexity of the guidelines for radioactive waste storage reflects the high risk of harming employee health or damaging the environment through exposure to hazardous waste. Following the guidelines not only protects people and the environment but also protects your business from expensive EPA fines for non-compliance. The best strategy is to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of PacTec professionals who can answer your questions and help you decide which hazardous waste packaging will be best for your business needs. Contact a PacTec regional representative at your earliest convenience.