Release of materials from regulatory control is an important process; it reduces the amounts of radioactive waste requiring disposal and serves to conserve resources. This paper discusses the radiological protection principles and criteria that apply to the release of materials and land from regulatory control. Comparisons are drawn between materials containing artificial radionuclides and those containing natural radionuclides. Materials within regulated practices are subject to controls. Stringent requirements are placed on the disposal of radioactive wastes in order to protect man and the environment from the effects of ionising radiation. These requirements are generally linked to the hazard posed by the waste and may include disposal at defined locations, environmental monitoring around the point of disposal and assessment of the doses or risks to exposed individuals for comparison with protection criteria (eg, dose limits and constraints). Logically, there should come a point where the radiological hazard posed by the material is such that regulatory controls can be removed and the materials can be released into the general environment without further consideration. Release of materials from regulatory controls has a number of advantages. For example, it allows regulatory effort to be focussed on areas of significant potential hazard and would help to avoid expensive disposal space being needlessly occupied by materials of very low activity content. Recycling of economically valuable materials would also contribute to sustainable development. Nevertheless, it is important to avoid the connotation that radioactive waste is being dumped on the public; the process for release from regulatory controls should be transparent and soundly based on radiological protection considerations. This paper considers both the release of materials from regulatory controls from licensed nuclear sites and the release of land previously occupied by a licensed nuclear site. Comparisons are made with land and materials contaminated with natural radionuclides. It owes much to discussions with staff at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and draws heavily on the conclusions of the International Conference on ‘Safe Decommissioning for Nuclear Activities’ held in Berlin in 2002. The opinions, however, are those of the author.

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