A panel of state lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that would make West Virginia responsible for licensing, inspection and enforcement of medical, academic and industrial uses of certain radioactive materials.
That responsibility would make West Virginia an “agreement state” with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The House and Energy Manufacturing Committee’s advancement of House Bill 2896 follows a September interim legislative session meeting at which a Nuclear Regulatory Commission representative explained to lawmakers how West Virginia can take over regulation from the commission of certain uses of radioactive materials.
Duncan White, senior health physicist at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reported to lawmakers in September that there were 166 licensees with locations of use and 622 generally licensed devices at 73 facilities requiring registration in West Virginia. Generally licensed devices contain radioactive material used to measure or control the thickness or chemical composition of certain items. They include density and fill-level gauges as well as exit signs.
The commission collected $1.3 million from licensees in fiscal year 2021, according to White.
“[W]e would like to keep that $1.3 million local,” committee counsel Robert Akers said in explaining the intent of HB 2896, which was led in sponsorship by committee Chairman Bill Anderson, R-Wood.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission retains regulatory authority over nuclear power plants and research reactors, high-level waste handling and disposal and large quantities of special nuclear material, a category that includes plutonium, uranium and uranium-233, a non-naturally occurring isotope of uranium.
Agreement states assume the authority to regulate other materials, like tailings from extraction of uranium or thorium from ores processed for their source material, land disposal of certain radioactive material, and most uranium and thorium ores and product from mining and milling.
“This is all low-level waste from medical and industrial uses, such as sensors, X-rays, MRIs, body scanners, things of that nature,” Akers said.
There are 39 agreement states, and two others have submitted a letter of intent to become one, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission data.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 allows the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to assist states that aim to become agreement states. Kentucky became the first agreement state in 1962. All states bordering West Virginia are agreement states.
Akers said state officials had “negotiated with” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in crafting the 40-page bill, which took Akers over 20 minutes to explain from beginning to end Tuesday.
The commission would train and pay for training state inspectors to examine radioactive materials and machinery, Akers said.
Radioactive waste would be sent to sites in the states of Texas, Utah or Washington, Akers said.
HB 2896 would transfer authority to regulate radioactive materials from the Department of Health and Human Resources to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Akers said perhaps 10 DHHR employees currently work in areas covered by HB 2896 but aren’t all full-time workers. HB 2896 wouldn’t transfer any employees between departments, Akers told the committee.
“That’s an administrative executive branch function,” Akers said.
HB 2896 did not have a fiscal note explaining its potential financial impact at the time the committee passed it Tuesday afternoon. Akers said one was requested of the DEP and the DHHR. The committee is slated for two other stops before advancement to the full House of Delegates: the Judiciary and Finance committees, respectively.
White told West Virginia lawmakers in September it costs less for a state to implement a state agreement program than it does for the commission to carry out the same responsibilities.
States interested in becoming an agreement state prepare a program and application after submitting a letter of intent from the governor to the commission. It has taken from 3.3 to 7.9 years between letter of intent submission and the effective date for becoming an agreement state for states taking on that authority in the past 25 years, White said.
The bill would create a Radiation Advisory Board consisting of the secretaries of the DEP, DHHR, state Department of Homeland Security or their designees, plus four governor appointees. The governor appointees must be from industry and academia with training in radiology, medicine, radiation, health physics, physics, related sciences with specialization in ionizing radiation, law, management of nuclear materials, or emergency management.
The board would make recommendations to the DEP to establish and oversee radiation regulation programs and set up fee schedules for licensures and registrations required per the legislation.
As the state’s designated radiation control agency, the DEP would develop programs for evaluating and controlling hazards associated with radiation sources and maintain license files. All X-ray machines would have to be registered with the DEP.
The DEP could set surety requirements for licensed activities involving source material milling, source material mill tailing and disposal of low-level radioactive waste under HB 2896, which would create a DEP-controlled radiation site closure and reclamation fund. The DEP also would control a fund for radiation licensure and inspection.
Violators of licensing or registration provisions would be subject to a DEP-imposed civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, with each day a violation occurs counting as a separate offense.
Willful violation of DEP rules or regulations would be a felony, prompting a fine of $1,000 to $25,000 for each day of violation, imprisonment of one to five years, or both.