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August 4, 1989

Low-Level Radioactive Wastes

Author Affiliations

From the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association, Chicago.

From the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association, Chicago.

JAMA. 1989;262(5):669-674. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430050085032

Under a federal law, each state by January 1, 1993, must provide for safe disposal of its low-level radioactive wastes. Most of the wastes are from using nuclear power to produce electricity, but 25% to 30% are from medical diagnosis, therapy, and research. Exposures to radioactivity from the wastes are much smaller than those from natural sources, and federal standards limit public exposure. Currently operating disposal facilities are in Beatty, Nev, Barnwell, SC, and Richland, Wash. National policy encourages the development of regional facilities. Planning a regional facility, selecting a site, and building, monitoring, and closing the facility will be a complex project lasting decades that involves legislation, public participation, local and state governments, financing, quality control, and surveillance. The facilities will utilize geological factors, structural designs, packaging, and other approaches to isolate the wastes. Those providing medical care can reduce wastes by storing them until they are less radioactive, substituting nonradioactive compounds, reducing volumes, and incinerating. Physicians have an important role in informing and advising the public and public officials about risks involved with the wastes and about effective methods of dealing with them.

(JAMA. 1989;262:669-674)