Last updated : November 2011


"Agreement State"
a state having an Agreement with the federal government, whereby the authority and responsibility for the government control of radioactive materials, as mandated by Congress in the AEA (Section 274) is transferred from the responsible federal agency (initially AEC, then ERDA, now NRC) to the state; New York became an Agreement State on October 15, 1962, the authorized state agencies being NYSDOL, NYSDEC, NYSDOH, and NYCDOH
"As Low As Reasonably Achievable," a basic concept of radiation protection, frequently mentioned in regulations, that exposure to ionizing radiation and releases of radioactive materials should be reduced as far below regulatory limits as is reasonably achievable considering economic, technological, and societal factors, among others; ALARA is not an enforceable dose limit
alpha emitter
a radioactive isotope which decays by emitting an alpha particle
alpha particle
a high speed, heavy particle (equivalent to a helium nucleus: 2 protons and 2 neutrons); the most energetic form of ionizing radiation, and, if present internally, the most biologically damaging form of ionizing radiation
Deviation from the normal or common order, form or rule; abnormality.
background radiation
the ionizing radiation dose from naturally occurring sources: cosmic rays (gamma rays from outer space), about 30 millirems/year; and radioactive isotopes in the earth's crust, primarily uranium, thorium, radium and potassium, about 30 millirems/year; for an external total dose of about 60 millirems/yr; in addition there is an internal dose from ingestion and inhalation of these naturally occurring radioactive isotopes of about 40 millirems/yr; making for a grand total of about 100 millirems/yr of unavoidable background radiation dose
beta particle
high energy electron emitted during the decay of some radioactive isotopes (beta emitters)
biological effects
a range of possible consequences, depending on the type and degree of cellular damage, that may result from exposure to ionizing radiation, ranging from immediate (death, acute radiation sickness, burns, etc.) to delayed results (cancer, inheritable mutations, and birth defects)
"byproduct material"
originally defined at Section 11e in the AEA as "any radioactive material (except special nuclear material) yielded in or made radioactive by exposure to the radiation incident to the process of producing or utilizing special nuclear material," i.e., basically either the depleted uranium resulting from the removal of fissionable U-235 in the gaseous diffusion process, or the fission products resulting from the production of plutonium in a nuclear reactor used for that purpose; with passage of UMTRCA, this material became "11e.(1) byproduct material" and Congress expanded the definition by reclassifying many materials, previously defined as "source material," in a new category called "11e.(2) byproduct material" defined as "tailings or wastes produced by the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from any ore processed primarily for its source material content"; henceforth, these "11e.(2)" materials were to be strictly controlled by NRC licenses, and their disposal governed by the NRC's new Appendix A regulations issued October 3, 1980 (see "UMTRCA" in Acronyms); at Tonawanda and many other FUSRAP sites, DOE has attempted to apply only EPA's weaker 40 CFR 192 regulations, which were primarily developed for remediation of the remote western sites, while ignoring the NRC's 10 CFR 40 Appendix A regs and the applicable NRC guidelines; since its creation in 1974, NRC, by failing to apply its clear authority and responsibility to exercise 10 CFR 40 licensing control over these inactive or unlicensed sites, has failed to implement the Atomic Energy Act's Section 2.d. finding: "The processing and utilization of source, byproduct, and special nuclear material must be regulated in the national interest and in order to provide for the common defense and security and to protect the health and safety of the public"; this failure has continued even after Congress's specific 1978 UMTRCA directive to NRC to act: 10 CFR Part 40.2a(b) states "The Commission will regulate byproduct material as defined in this Part that is located at a site where milling operations are no longer active, if such site is not covered by the remedial action program of Title I of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act [UMTRCA] of 1978. The criteria in Appendix A of this Part will be applied to such sites."
cleanup criteria
the cleanup levels (in pCi/gram, dpm/unit surface area, etc.) which are set in a cleanup decision (ROD) for each type of radioactive contamination present at a site. Frequently the cleanup criteria chosen by the agency implementing the cleanup do not provide for unrestricted future use of the site. To reduce cleanup costs agencies often select weak cleanup criteria that are based on the use of computer exposure models (see exposure scenarios) that assume exposure to the contamination left behind on the site will be greatly limited by the type of use a property is expected to be put to, either under current property zoning designations (which are subject to change) or by the placement of "permanent" deed restrictions. Limited-use cleanups are nevertheless often portrayed to the public by agencies and unprincipled politicians as complete cleanups that allow unrestricted use of the property. Such claims of "unrestricted use" prey upon the public's face-value, literal interpretation of the phrase. It also places future generations at risk from more intensive site uses. This is what has happened at the Tonawanda, NY FUSRAP Site, and many other sites (see "Botched Cleanups ..." and "Army Improperly Selects Cleanup Criteria ..."). The cleanup criteria for truly unrestricted use of the Tonawanda Site are the following : NRC regulations and guidelines (10 CFR 20, 10 CFR 40, Branch Technical Position Paper, 46 FR 52061, October 23, 1981; Policy and Guidance Directive FC 83-23, November 4, 1983; and NUREG-1444), EPA regulations (40 CFR 61, 40 CFR 192, 40 CFR 264, etc), and New York State regulations implementing NESHAPS, RCRA, HSWA, etc, and guidelines including TAGM-4003
collective dose
the sum of the individual doses received over a given period of time by a specified population from exposure to a specified source or sources of ionizing radiation
counts per minute
the quantity of ionizing radiation detected by a particular ionizing radiation survey instrument; depending on the instrument's sensitivity and efficiency, the number of counts reported may be a smaller or larger fraction of the amount of radiation actually present
counts per minute
decay chain
a series of radioactive substances, each of which decays into another radioactive substance (usually called "daughters" or progeny), until a stable substance is reached
the process for removing a licensed radioactive materials property from service wherein radioactive contamination is reduced to a level specified by an agency, usually NRC, before termination of the radioactive materials license and "free release" of the property
"de minimis" risk
a legal term; the Supreme Court has determined a risk to be "de minimis" if it has a one in one million chance, or less, of occurring; "de minimis" risks are not contestable in court. However, NRC, EPA, DOE, and state agencies now routinely issue cleanup criteria decisions that apply much higher risk levels, up to 100-fold greater risk (i.e., one in ten thousand occurrence rate), within already very limited future use exposure scenarios
a measure of the amount of exposure of a living organism to ionizing radiation that takes into account the greater biological harm of alpha radiation; measured in various units, most commonly measured in millirems per exposure episode or per unit of time (see millirem)
disintegrations per minute: the number of atoms of a radioactive substance that decay per minute, i.e. release ionizing radiation in changing to another substance; 1 pCi is the amount of a radioactive substance that undergoes 2.2 disintegrations per minute
disintegrations per second
direct contact with or assimilation of radioactive materials, or proximity to unshielded sources of ionizing radiation resulting in absorption of ionizing radiation by the exposed body; also refers to the amount of energy absorbed during an exposure episode, exposure is measured in rads; "rad" is an acronym for "radiation absorbed dose" (1 rad = 100 ergs of absorbed energy)
exposure pathway
one of many possible physical courses a contaminant may take from the source of the contamination to the organism exposed; ex., a worker in a contaminated area disturbs radioactive dust containing alpha-emitters, dust becomes airborne and is inhaled into his lungs where it is deposited, the alpha-emitters decay irradiating adjacent lung tissue
exposure scenario
one of many possible models of human activity patterns consisting of a collection of the particular exposure pathways, and an assumed duration for each pathway, deemed to be appropriate for that particular model. The "resident farmer scenario" is the most intensive human land use pattern. It is the only exposure scenario that assumes completely unrestricted use of land, water and air. It incorporates all possible exposure pathways and therefore results in the greatest radiation exposure and radiation dose. In the "resident farmer scenario" people are assumed to build and live in houses on the contaminated site, work on the site, grow all their own food on the site, eat fish from contaminated water, and use contaminated water - well or surface water - on the site for all purposes. A more restrictive exposure scenario would be a "residential use" model that would assume people live in house on the site but not work onsite or grow food onsite, thereby reducing both the number of pathways of exposure and the duration of exposure from the remaining pathways (see "decommission" and "unrestricted use")
external exposure
ionizing radiation exposure from radioactive sources located outside the body
"free release"
a term used by NRC, EPA, and DOE which originally meant decontamination of radioactively contaminated material to a level that would allow "unrestricted use" according to the public's perception of that term; but recently agency interpretation has been considerably weakened. See "unrestricted use" and NRC's dated Health Physics Position 72, which contains this statement :
The regulations applicable to nuclear power reactor licensees do not provide for release of materials for unrestricted use that are known to be radioactively contaminated at any level. Authorization for disposal of specific radioactively contaminated materials may be requested as specified in 10 CFR 20.302 [or 10 CFR 20.2002]. The Commission recognizes the need for "de minimis" classification of wastes and has initiated work to define "de minimis" levels on a specific waste basis. This work is continuing.
Note: The statement concerning "de minimis" classification of wastes is related to the NRC's below regulatory concern (BRC) policy, which NRC continues to implement over public opposition.
gaseous diffusion
a process whereby refined natural uranium is fluorinated to produce a gas, uranium hexafluoride, the slightly lighter U-234 and U-235 fractions are then separated from the heavier and predominant U-238 isotope by taking advantage of the slight difference in the rate of diffusion of the fractions; process originally developed for MED by Linde at the Chandler Street facility in Buffalo
gamma ray
a penetrating electromagnetic wave (ray) emitted by some radioactive isotopes during decay; similar to x-rays, which are man-made
the length of time it takes for half of the atoms of a radioactive substance to decay. ex., radium-226 has a half life of 1600 years; if we have 100 atoms of Ra-226 today, 1600 years from today we will have 50 atoms of Ra-226, the other 50 atoms will have decayed to radon-222 (also radioactive)
hazard period
the length of time before there is any noticeable decline in the radioactivity of the wastes; for Tonawanda's MED materials this period is more than 500,000 years
internal exposure
ionizing radiation exposure from radioactive materials distributed within the body
ionizing radiation
radiation in the form of high energy particles (alpha particles and beta particles) and electromagnetic waves (gamma rays) released from the nuclei of radioactive atoms undergoing decay; the energy possesed by these particles and rays is capable of damaging living tissue at the molecular level (e.g. DNA) by breaking chemical bonds
forms of the same element whose nuclei have the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons ex., uranium-234, uranium-235, and uranium-238
"K-65 residues"
the uranium mill tailings resulting from a uniquely concentrated uranium ore discovered before WW II in Katanga province (Shinkolobwe) of the former Belgian Congo, now Democratic Republic of Congo (see "The Devil's Dirt" article. This ore, dubbed "K-65," had a record 65% uranium content. It also held very high concentrations of thorium and radium (and their decay products, including radon gas) which are retained in the tailings (residues). The very high concentrations of these extremely toxic, long-lived radionuclides present in these wastes prompted the National Academy of Science's National Research Council to categorize them as indistinguishable in hazard from High-Level Waste in its 1995 report. The K-65 ores were refined as a key part of the Manhattan Project during World War II at the Linde Ceramics Plant at Tonawanda, NY, and at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis. The Mallinckrodt "K-65 residues" were later moved to a huge, new, Cold War uranium refinery at Fernald, OH (outside of Cincinnati) which commenced operations in 1951. The refining of "K-65" ore was continued at Fernald. The Linde "K-65 residues" were transported to a storage silo built at the federally-appropriated Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site outside of Lewiston, NY, a short distance from Niagara Falls. See a 1994 ROLE letter for details of federal mismanagement of the Linde K-65 residues.
a unit of measure of ionizing radiation exposure of living tissues that takes into account the differences in biological harm (Relative Biological Effectiveness [RBE factor]) caused by different types of ionizing radiation, for example, 1 millirad of beta or gamma radiation exposure equals one millirem, but the same amount of energy of alpha radiation will equal 20 millirems, reflecting the greater biological harm delivered by the heavier alpha particles (the RBE factor for gamma rays and beta particles = 1, for alpha particles it = 20)
mixed waste
waste that contains both hazardous waste, as defined by RCRA, and certain radioactive wastes, as defined in the AEA
NRC Licensee
the holder of an NRC or Agreement State radioactive materials license
refers to a provision which has not undergone a process of public review
picoCurie (pCi)
a trillionth of a Curie (1 Ci of radioactive material is an amount that produces 37 billion nuclear disintegrations per second), so 1 pCi equals approximately 2.2 disintegrations per minute
picoCuries per gram, a measure of radioactive concentration, i.e. the amount of a radioactive isotope (in picoCuries) per unit weight (in grams) of the material containing the radioisotope; ex., a sample of contaminated soil was analyzed and found to contain 60 pCi of uranium per gram of soil (consisting of approximately 30 pCi of U-234, 29 pCi of U-238 and 1 pCi of U-235)
refers to a rule, regulation, etc. which has undergone a formal process of public review
a property of certain elements, or isotopes of an element, whose atomic nuclei are unstable and subject to spontaneous disintegration, thereby giving off ionizing radiation
a radioactive gas (alpha particle emitter) produced by the decay of radium; its progeny are radioactive solids; together, radon and progeny, may pose a serious hazard in buildings constructed over radium/thorium contaminated soils
"source material"
from the outset, much of the radioactive waste and contamination from Tonawanda's uranium refinery was "source material," i.e. "any material, except fissionable material, which contains by weight one-twentieth of one percent (0.05%) or more of (1) uranium [i.e. 170 pCi/g U-238], (2) thorium, or (3) any combination thereof" (see AEA of 1946, AEA of 1954, and 10 CFR 40 of that era); the possession of source material by, or its transfer to, any person (other than the AEC, or, after 1974, NRC) has always required a license from the AEC or the NRC; the contamination at both the Linde property and the Haist property was far in excess of 0.05% uranium when AEC released control of these heavily contaminated properties, in 1953 and 1959 respectively, and yet no license to control the radioactive materials present was required of either Linde or the Ashland Oil Co.; therefore, AEC's release of these properties was an illegal act (see "Overview")
source term
the types and Curie amounts of radioactive materials dumped at a site or present in contamination at a radioactive materials facility
"special nuclear material"
basically atomic bomb materials or nuclear reactor fuel, does not include source material; defined in the AEA, Section 11t as "(1) plutonium, uranium enriched in the isotope 233 or in the isotope 235, and any other material which the Commission pursuant to the provisions of section 51, determines to be special nuclear material, but does not include source material; or (2) any material artificially enriched by any of the foregoing, but does not include source material"
(cleanup for) unrestricted use
the term "cleanup for unrestricted use" is usually literally interpreted by the public to mean the thorough and complete cleanup of a site, i.e. there will be no harm to the user's health no matter how intensively a property or facility is used after the cleanup. Unfortunately, this popular interpretation of the term has been freely taken advantage of by cleanup implementing agencies to mislead the public. For example, while the weak cleanup levels chosen for the various Tonawanda, NY FUSRAP Site properties have been based on very limited human future use exposure scenarios, such as parkland or light industrial use, phrases such as "complete cleanup" and "unrestricted use" are bandied about by DOE, USACE, and local politicians to describe what are in fact quite limited cleanups. See "exposure scenarios" and "cleanup criteria" above.
more precisely identified as "natural uranium" (aka "total uranium"), uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring (metal) element in the earth's crust; it exists as three isotopes in the following percentages by weight: U-238, 99.283%; U-234, 0.0054%; and U-235, 0.711%; by radioactivity: U-238, 48.6%; U-234, 49.2%; and U-235, 2.2%; U-235 is the only fissile isotope (capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction), i.e. it is the uranium "bomb material" and nuclear reactor fuel isotope. Thus,when measured by radioactivity, ie pCi/g or pCi/L, a reported activity of natural uranium implies that approximately half of the reported activity is from U-238, eg 10 pCi/L natural uranium implies 5 pCi/L U-238 (actually 4.86 pCi/L).

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