WASHINGTON—The Nuclear Energy Institute filed a formal petition for rehearing today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking review of a recent decision on the Environmental Protection Agency’s compliance standard for the planned Yucca Mountain, Nev., used nuclear fuel repository.
NEI’s petition for rehearing argues that EPA did, in fact, do what the court last month said was required under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to comply with the National Academy of Sciences’ 1995 recommendation for a radiation standard for the underground disposal facility to be built in the Nevada desert.
The court ruled on July 9th that EPA’s standard improperly deviated from the NAS recommendation that the compliance period during which the repository design must be able to limit the presence of radionuclides within several miles of the site should encompass a period beyond 10,000 years. EPA established a radiation protection standard of 15 millirem for Yucca Mountain—about the same as an X-ray.
“We take issue with the court’s July decision because the EPA did what it was supposed to do by starting with the NAS report, factoring in policy considerations and coming up with a standard,” said Michael Bauser, NEI associate general counsel. “In its ruling the court also ignored the fact that EPA’s 10,000-year compliance standard is consistent with other waste management practices, dealing with both radioactive and non-radioactive material, and ensures public health and safety by limiting radiation exposure to the public of less than one-20th of natural background levels.”
The NAS acknowledged in its 1995 recommendation that it looked only at scientific issues in its study and advised that the EPA needed to take policy issues into consideration in developing its standard.
The court’s ruling on the length of the compliance period was the one instance in which the court didn’t reject the state of Nevada’s many legal challenges to the federal government’s Yucca Mountain program. Ruling in a group of consolidated cases, the appellate court addressed and rejected 11 of 12 issues raised by Nevada, including a constitutional challenge.
The NEI petition also asks the court to reconsider its decision to allow EPA to include a separate standard to regulate the concentration of radionuclides in groundwater that are in addition to regulations that limit total radiation exposures due to possible releases from the Yucca Mountain repository—a limit that includes exposure due to the groundwater pathway.
“The separate EPA groundwater standard is in violation of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and provides no additional protection as the all-pathways exposure limit in the regulation includes radiation doses from any releases through groundwater,” Bauser said.
The state-of-the-art disposal facility planned for Yucca Mountain would isolate used fuel from the commercial nuclear power plants that supply electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses, and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The Department of Energy plans to file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the Yucca Mountain repository this December.
Congress endorsed the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site, which the government hopes to open in the year 2010, in 2002.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.