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Nevada officials call new EPA radiation standard 'outrageous'
Las Vegas Sun


August 10, 2005

WASHINGTON - Nevada opponents of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump said they were shocked by the "outrageous" new radiation protection standards announced by the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday

The EPA is keeping the 10,000-year radiation protection standard for the proposed dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, while creating a different exposure limit after 10,000 years, for up to 1 million years.

One part of the new proposed standard has a 15 millirem radiation exposure for up to 10,000 years, the same limit a federal court threw out last year. Another part of the standard limits exposure to 350 millirem per year for 10,000 to 1 million years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed standards "limit the maximum radiation from the facility so that people living close to Yucca Mountain for a lifetime during the 1 million-year time frame will not receive total radiation any higher than natural levels people currently live with in other areas of the country."

Joe Egan, a lawyer who represents Nevada on Yucca issues, said he was shocked by the new numbers.

"That is far more outrageous than anything we even expected," Egan said. "If more than 15 millirems is harmful now, it is going to be equally harmful 50,000 years from now. People aren't just going to develop an immunity to radiation."

Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Director Bob Loux said the new standard was "outrageous" because 350 millirem is so high.

EPA spokesman John Millett said the 350 millirem standard was an appropriate number given the uncertainties of calculating radiation standards so far into the future.

Other Nevada officials initially withheld comments. They said they wanted a chance to examine the EPA's proposal.

Attorney General Brian Sandoval said the state must "have the opportunity to review" the proposed standard to see "if it meets scientific muster."

He noted the EPA originally said the 10,000 years was a safe standard, but a federal appeals court found it violated the law.

Egan said it will be up to Sandoval to decide what legal option to pursue, but he would not be surprised if more litigation came out of this.

"This is a total abdication of science and the law," Egan said.

A federal appeals court said last year that the 10,000-year time period previously established by the agency did not follow the law. That ruling threw the proposed nuclear waste dump off schedule until a new standard could be established. The court said the earlier standard was not "based upon and consistent with" a National Academy of Sciences recommendation. Congress wanted the standard to follow what a panel of the academy's experts wanted.

The EPA originally set a 10,000-year radiation standard for Yucca in 2001. Under that standard, the department would have to prove people would not be exposed to more than 15 millirems of radiation, a little more than a chest X-ray, each year for 10,000 years.

The National Academy of Sciences said it would be better to go to "peak dose" when the radiation levels would be at their highest. This could come 100,000 years into the future or more.

Now that the proposed standard is complete, it will have to go through a public comment period before becoming final. EPA will have to evaluate the comments and can make changes before implementing the final standard.

Rod McCullum, senior project manager for waste at the Nuclear Energy Institute, could not comment specifically on what EPA proposed, but said he had always believed a two-tiered standard was a "sound, scientific approach."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson Monday reminding him of a promised public hearing in Las Vegas once the agency issues the rule. The senators also want the agency to hold hearings in Reno and Amargosa Valley and want a public comment period of no less than 180 days.

"Because of the enormity, time span and risk of the proposed project, any standard must err on the side of caution in order to guarantee the protection of public health and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years," the senators wrote.


Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

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