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Lax Radiation Standards for Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository Will Leave Future Generations Vulnerable

Aug. 10, 2005

Lax Radiation Standards for Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository Will Leave Future Generations Vulnerable

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposal to allow two different radiation standards for the high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will fail to protect the long-term health and safety of the people living in the region.

The setting of two standards – 15 millirems per year for the first 10,000 years and 350 millirems per year thereafter – is an arbitrary decision designed to facilitate the licensing of the project rather than make it safe for those who live near the site. If a 15 mrem/yr standard has been determined necessary to protect health in today’s environment, such a standard should continue at least through the time of predicted peak dose from the dump site, as the National Academy of Sciences has recommended. Several studies have determined that the peak radiation dose will occur several hundred thousand years from now.

This latest development in the Yucca Mountain saga clearly demonstrates how the rules are being written for one specific site, rather than ensuring that this site adheres to a set of stringent standards that protect public health and safety. It is evident that the government cannot meet an adequate standard and is therefore deviating from scientific benchmarks to advance its agenda to open the country’s first nuclear dump. Just three years ago, the EPA said it did not approve of a two-tier radiation standard. The EPA has also dismissed the use of even a 25 mrem/yr standard in the past because of the increased cancer incidence that would result. But now, the second standard EPA has proposed for Yucca Mountain is 14 times this unacceptable value.

Thanks to the energy legislation recently signed by President Bush, nuclear energy companies are now enticed by taxpayer subsidies to build the first new nuclear reactors in this country in 30 years. It is now more important than ever that we monitor nuclear power – and its lethal leftovers – from cradle to grave to ensure that the American public and future generations are not harmed along the way. Pressure from the Bush administration to open Yucca Mountain should not deter the EPA from setting strict guidelines that are logical, sound and consistent with its mission of protecting public health and safety.

One strict standard should be set for radiation at Yucca Mountain, not a temporary strict standard for one time period, followed by a weak standard for the rest of time.

The problem of disposing of the growing piles of nuclear waste around the country remains the Achilles’ heel of the industry. The rules have been bent too often to promote Yucca Mountain. The EPA needs a reality check; protecting public health and safety shouldn’t have an expiration date.