Published on Thursday May 10 2012 (AEST)
Uranium pellets, a nuclear fuel product for atomic power plants, are seen on a production line at Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Kazakhstan's eastern town of Ust-Kamenogorsk in this August 11, 2006 file photo.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has decided to allow uranium captured in water treatment filters to be processed by uranium recovery operations - without the need for any licence amendment.
In official guidance, the NRC noted that the ion exchange resins used in certain water filters is often the same as those used in uranium recovery activities. In this case they count as 'equivalent feed' and do not require any special licence amendment for those facilities to process.
This could potentially greatly reduce the costs for small community waterworks. Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations there is a limit of 30 micrograms of uranium per litre permitted in drinking water. The EPA estimates some municipal water treatment systems can spend up to 50% of their operating costs on transport, treatment and disposal of uranium bearing resins. Uranium is a naturally occurring source of radiation and exists in all water bodies in varying concentrations.
"This is a win-win situation, benefitting our national interest by recovering valuable uranium while helping community water systems purify drinking water," said Mark Satorius, director of the NRC's Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs.
"The ability to reuse the resins provides an economic benefit to the treatment facilities by reducing operating costs and the amount of resin requiring disposal." The processed resins could be disposed of either in mill tailing impoundments or low level waste facilities, or put back into service as water treatment filters.
The same guidance also applies to 'equivalent feed' filters from mine dewatering operations and even filters from other uranium recovery operations, as long as the processing facility remains within the scope of its existing safety and environmental reviews.