October 1, 2008

EPA Sets Yucca Radiation Standards

By Stephen Speckman Deseret News

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday it has established final radiation standards for the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The standards are intended to protect human health and the environment for 1 million years.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the "lowered" radiation standard will instead put people at risk.

"In other words, the (EPA) agency decided just how much radiation you and I can live with," Reid said. "Let me be clear, there is no way this weak standard will breathe life into the Bush-McCain plan to dump nuclear waste in Nevada. Instead, it will breathe life into more litigation against this terrible project."

Last June the Department of Energy submitted an 8,600-page license application to build the dump 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas at the edge of DOE's Nevada Test Site. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will include EPA's new standards in its licensing regulations. Congress directed the EPA to develop the standards.

The new EPA standards set per-year limits on millirem doses of radiation (15 millirem) for the first 10,000 years after disposal and 100 millirem for up to 1 million years after that on allowable annual radiation exposure at the dump site. Fifteen millirem is the amount of radiation from a typical X-ray.

On average human beings are exposed to about 360 millirem per year from naturally occurring and man-made sources, the EPA noted in a statement. Invisible, odorless radon gas in homes, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and medical X-rays are a few sources.

The final standards also require the Department of Energy "to consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes and corrosion of the waste packages to safely contain the waste during the 1 million year period."

Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, also called the standard weak.

"Shoddy science has been used to move the flawed choice of Yucca Mountain forward ... and the latest action by the EPA is more of the same," Matheson said in a statement. "That is why I oppose Yucca Mountain and have proposed a plan to store the nuclear waste on site where it is produced."

The EPA added how its standards will be "consistent with the recommendations of the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) by establishing a radiological protection standard for this facility at the time of peak does up to 1 million years after disposal."

The waste site would be located in Yucca Mountain, 1,000 feet below the top of the mountain and 1,000 feet above ground water.

The EPA has noted that the repository would be located over a "large, deep source of fresh water currently used as agricultural and drinking water. This water feeds a larger groundwater basin south of the site that has the potential to supply many people in the surrounding area."

If approved, the site would be the country's first geologic repository for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Thousands of tons of nuclear waste from around the country, some transported through Utah, would be dumped at the Nye County site. About 1,400 people live within 20 miles of the site.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons has said he will continue to try stopping the Yucca Mountain site from being built, and Reid also has been a vocal opponent. Last June Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the application to build the site will "stand up to any challenge anywhere."

The site at one time had been proposed for opening in 1998, but legal, political and scientific controversies have pushed the new estimated operational date to at least 2020. The lifetime cost of maintaining the site is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, while earlier this year Congress approved spending nearly $390 million on the project. In 1978 the DOE began looking at Yucca Mountain as a possible nuclear waste dump.

More information is available at www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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