WASHINGTON—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 22 published in the Federal Register a radiation protection standard for the repository for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev. The proposed standard sets one dose level for the first 10,000 years and a separate dose limit for the period beyond 10,000 years to one million years, based on natural background radiation levels found in the United States. Following is a statement on EPA’s proposal by Skip Bowman, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute:
“The EPA’s concept for the radiation protection standard at the Yucca Mountain repository will protect future generations near the desert site.
“The 10,000-year radiation protection standard is currently applied for residents near every other radioactive waste management facility in the United States, including the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The EPA has used this same standard for the Yucca Mountain repository for the first 10,000-year period. The 15 millirem (mrem) overall limit proposed by EPA during the first 10,000 years of repository operation is well below the background radiation levels in Nevada (221 mrem). It is a fraction of the naturally occurring radiation in other Western states, such as Colorado (700 mrem), South Dakota (962 mrem) and North Dakota (789 mrem).
“The EPA concept for the standard beyond 10,000 years ensures that Nevadans’ total exposure from the repository – in addition to natural background radiation – is less than the radiation dose from natural sources in some states today. However, a standard that regulates beyond the internationally accepted 10,000-year standard to 1 million years, or 25,000 generations, is inconsistent with all other regulatory standards for non-radioactive and radioactive hazardous materials.
“The certainty of more legal challenges by project opponents warrants clarification of federal policy in this area. Long-term legal challenges to this proposed standard could further frustrate the country’s clear public policy and law to site and operate a specially designed repository for used nuclear fuel management. The federal government is already eight years late in upholding its commitment to manage used nuclear fuel at a federal disposal facility. This project is far too important to be held at bay in the courts for years to come over the issue of radiation dose that is less than the difference between living today in Nevada or Colorado.
“There is precedent for considering policy issues in the process of establishing radiation protection standards, and the nuclear energy industry supports congressional action to clarify these policy issues. Both Congress and the National Academy of Sciences recommended that policy considerations be taken into account in the standard-setting process. The NAS, in its 1995 report that was the basis for the U.S. Court of Appeals’ July 2004 decision remanding EPA’s original Yucca Mountain standard, itself acknowledged, ‘(T)hat although the selection of a time period of applicability has scientific elements, it also has policy aspects (emphasis added) that we have not addressed.’
“The nuclear energy industry remains confident that, on the basis of two decades of intensive scientific study of Yucca Mountain, a geologic repository that protects public health and the environment can be built and operated safely.”
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.