In the Village Square: Risk Misperception and Decisionmaking in the Regulation of Low-Level Radioactive Waste

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Every year, commercial and governmental sources in the United States generate approximately 1.4 million cubic feet of "low-level" radioactive waste (LLRW) - slightly-contaminated material discarded by a variety of institutional, medical, utility and government users of radiation. For numerous reasons, public perceptions of radioactive waste disposal have become increasingly negative. As a result, the public now perceives the risks associated with LLRW and its disposal to be far greater than current estimates of the actual risk. The regulatory structure that governs LLRW disposal and, in particular, the federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 and its 1985 amendments (LLRWPA), aggravate this difficulty. In this article, I describe the current regulatory framework for LLRW regulation in the United States, including recent Supreme Court interpretation of the LLRWPA, and then propose an efficient auction-based approach to siting LLRW disposal facilities that properly accounts for risk levels.