Waste containing naturally occurring radioactive substances

Waste containing naturally occurring radioactive substances is not radioactive waste as defined in the Radiation Act (859/2018) but waste as defined in section 78, subsection 3 of the Act, whose waste management radiation safety must be considered. If waste is nuclear material in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Act (990/1987) on the basis of its uranium and thorium concentrations, the notification and licensing procedures of the Nuclear Energy Act must be primarily followed.

If the amount of natural radioactive material in the waste is higher than the clearance levels but lower than the concentration limit of the nuclear material, the responsible party must apply for STUK's approval for waste treatment in accordance with the Radiation Act before it is processed. At concentrations below the clearance levels, waste can be recycled, recovered and disposed of in accordance with waste legislation without STUK's approval. When processing waste, the chemical properties of the waste must also be considered.

If the material contains artificial cesium-137 present in the environment and originating from a deposition, the activity concentrations or conditions set out in the regulation may be applied to its further treatment (Regulation STUK S/6/2022, sections 5–6, section 13). 

Clearance levels for naturally occurring radionuclides in solid materials (Regulation STUK SY/1/2018):

Naturally occurring radionuclides of the uranium-238 series 1 Bq/g
Naturally occurring radionuclides of the thorium-232 series 1 Bq/g
Potassium-40 10 Bq/g

Even if there is natural radioactive substances in the waste, the choice of the way in which the waste is to be further treated or disposed of is primarily in accordance with waste legislation. The responsible party must first determine where the waste could be delivered on the basis of its properties other than radiation.

When the disposal method has been clarified on the basis of waste legislation (e.g. environmental permit), the person responsible for the operations sends information about the waste and its treatment to STUK. The purpose of the information submitted to STUK is to verify that the natural radiation exposure caused by the final disposal of the items is lower than the reference levels, so all measures limiting exposure should be reported.

Below are two examples of waste containing natural radioactive substances and the information that must be submitted to STUK for approval of waste treatment:

1. When the waste is a single piece of waste, provide the following information:

  • description of the waste and its natural radioactive substances (measurement data);
  • handling and packaging method (worker exposure must be assessed, for example, if it is planned to remove radioactive materials that occur in nature from the piece);
  • mode of transport (if necessary, VAK transport of dangerous goods);
  • location (to be selected primarily in accordance with waste legislation, e.g. landfill).

2. When the waste is generated in an industrial process, provide the following information:

  • description of the waste, its quantity, treatment, transport, further treatment or disposal and the activity concentrations of the natural radioactive substances in the waste (test report);
  • an estimate of the worker exposure (during operation, transport, further treatment or disposal, including workers at landfills or mining waste sites);
  • location (primarily in accordance with waste legislation) or description of waste recovery;
  • an assessment of the exposure of the public during the operation and also in the long term, for example, after the closure of a landfill or a mining waste facility.

In the case of industrial process waste, the following should also be noted:

  • If the waste is to be recovered, for example, to be used in construction products, it must be demonstrated for the purpose of approval that the exposure of the general public is below the reference levels for the intended use. This must be demonstrated by means of the conditions applicable to construction products (Regulation STUK S/6/2022, section 13) or by calculation.
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