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About Low-Level Waste

Low-level Waste (LLW) regulated by the Compact includes radioactive waste other than: high-level radioactive waste, transuranic waste, nuclear weapons waste, uranium and thorium tailings, and wastes from mining, milling, smelting, or similar processing of ores and mineral-bearing material primarily for minerals other than radium.

LLW is a by-product of the use of a wide range of radioactive materials. Many activities use radioactive materials and, therefore, produce low-level waste. These include electricity generation; diagnosis of illness; treatment of diseases like cancer; medical research; testing of new pharmaceuticals; nondestructive testing of pipes and welds; hardening of materials, like hardwood floors; production of ionization-type smoke detectors; remediation of contaminated facilities and sites; and dozens of other purposes.

Companies that operate nuclear plants generate more than half the volume, and most of the radioactivity, of low-level waste in the United States. However, no nuclear power reactors are located in the Rocky Mountain Compact Region. LLW is produced by a large variety of industrial facilities and institutions that use radioactive materials, including medical research laboratories, hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, government and industrial research and development facilities, universities, manufacturing facilities, oil and gas companies, and government agencies.

Most LLW has radioactivity that decay to background radioactivity levels in under 500 years. About 95 percent decays to background levels within 100 years or less.

Low-level waste includes such items as gloves and other personal protective clothing, glass and plastic laboratory supplies, machine parts and tools, filters, wiping rags, and medical syringes that have come in contact with radioactive materials. LLW from nuclear plants typically includes water purification filters and resins, tools, protective clothing, plant hardware and wastes from reactor cooling-water cleanup systems