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EPA issues final Yucca Mountain radiation rules

Nevada senators blast proposals as using bad science

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008 | 3:23 p.m.

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency today issued final rules for limiting radiation standards from a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, but reactions came from Nevada's congressional delegation and an environmental activist.

The new rules satisfy a July 2004 court decision to extend the standards to protect public health and the environment, the EPA said.

The Yucca Mountain standards are in line with international radioactive waste management approaches, although Yucca Mountain is the only site designated as a final repository for both spent nuclear fuel and Defense Department nuclear wastes from the Cold War.

The EPA said it retained the dose limit of 15 millirem per year for the first 10,000 years after nuclear waste is disposed.

The agency established a dose limit of 100 millirem for annual exposure per year between 10,000 years and 1 million years.

It also requires the Energy Department to consider effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes and corrosion of the waste packages buried in the mountain to safely contain radiation during the 1-million-year period.

The agency also ordered the Energy Department to be consistent with National Academy of Sciences standards for Yucca Mountain at peak dose up to 1 million years after disposal.

Nevada's two senators blasted the proposed rules for radiation protection as a decision based on flawed science that will put millions of Nevadans at risk.

"Instead of working to protect the health and safety of Nevadans, EPA and DOE (Department of Energy) are casting science aside in an attempt to get the nuclear waste dump approved," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Senate majority leader.

"Instead of warring against science, I side with Nevadans and experts who support safe and attainable solutions to our nation's nuclear waste," Reid said. " That is why I am working with Senator Ensign to keep nuclear waste on-site at the power plants where it is produced in secure dry cask storage containers that are approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This plan is safer, more cost-effective, and will give us at least a century to find a more permanent solution to nuclear waste."

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he will work with Reid in a bipartisan manner to push for a new direction in nuclear waste storage and away from a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"The risks associated with Yucca Mountain are no secret," Ensign said. "Yet the EPA has decided to disregard science and the health and safety of Nevadans to push this nuclear waste dump further into action. Instead of trying to dismiss the risks of Yucca Mountain, our country should be moving towards safe on-site nuclear waste storage."

Bob Loux, the former director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency said his staff had not had time to do a thorough analysis, but the 100 millirem dose for annual exposure per year between 10,000 years and 1 million years is a three-fold reduction in radiation exposure.

Loux resigned Monday before the Nevada Nuclear Projects Commission.

The previous EPA rule set the dose at 350 millirems, Loux said.

The 100 millirem dose limit roughly equals radiation from five chest X-rays.

The average annual radiation exposure from both naturally occurring radiation such as radon and ultraviolet radiation from the sun and other sources such as X-rays is 360 millirems a year, the EPA said.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear said the move shows how politicized the issue has become as the Bush administration attempts to push the Yucca Mountain project along a month before the Nov. 4 elections.

"EPA's final Yucca radiation release regulations are unacceptable," Kamps said. "All human generations are of equal importance and moral worth. Generations living 10,000 years from now are as important as current generations, yet EPA would allow them to suffer six to seven times more harmful, cancer-causing radioactivity doses than allowed for current generations.

"EPA's statement tries to downplay the harm its proposed 100 millirems per year radiation doses at Yucca would cause by station that we currently average 360 millirems per year of exposure from natural and artificial radioactivity," Kamps said. "What EPA fails to mention is our current exposure to 360 millirems of radiation kills many thousands of Americans each year with fatal cancer."

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