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To help stem any leakage of radioactive wastes, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Department of the Interior, has embarked on an expanded program to study the hydrology and geology of the nation's present and proposed radioactive waste disposal sites. Despite recent reports by waste managers of underground leakage of radioactive wastes at burial sites, USGS scientists believe that safe burial grounds for solid radioactive wastes can be established but only if strict hydrogeologic criteria are rigorously applied in the selection of all new sites and if proper attention is given to inventory and classification of the waste to be buried. The USGS has been working with the Energy Research and Development Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) for more than 30 years on geology and water supply of atomic energy reservations and on research related to the disposal of high-level liquid radioactive wastes in geologic formations, but the USGS role in solid radioactive waste disposal has been limited to reacting to problems as they were recognized by the agencies responsible for the regulation and development of nuclear energy.

In 1975, Congress instructed the USGS to establish hydrogeologic criteria within 5 years for the selection of future sites for the disposal of solid radioactive wastes. In compliance with these instructions the USGS launched comprehensive field investigations in cooperation with responsible state agencies at state-owned commercial burial sites in New York, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Similar studies that will include at least 5 years of data collection are planned in Illinois, Nevada, and Washington. These studies should have wide application because they will provide data on what has happened to radioactive wastes in six different hydrogeologic environments.