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Proposed Changes to Nuclear Transportation Rule Reflect Dangerous Trend to Weaken Role of U.S. Regulators


June 26, 2002

Proposed Changes to Nuclear Transportation Rule Reflect Dangerous Trend to Weaken Role of U.S. Regulators

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission?s (NRC) proposed changes to safety standards for transporting radioactive material would endanger public health and safety, groups opposing nuclear waste shipments to Nevada?s Yucca Mountain repository said today. The NRC held a public meeting on proposed changes to 10 CFR 71 at its Rockville, Md., headquarters this week. The changes are an attempt to “harmonize” U.S. regulations with weaker international standards. The Department of Transportation (DOT) also is proposing a parallel harmonization rulemaking.

“This is nuclear shipment safety as written by nuclear industry lobbyists ? not government safety officials,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

While the proposed rollback threatens protections for many types of radioactive shipments, it could have a spillover effect on standards for transporting high-level nuclear waste and irradiated fuel from commercial nuclear power plants ? just as the nuclear industry is pushing a shipment plant of unprecedented magnitude to the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. In particular, proposed changes would weaken reporting requirements of events involving defective or shoddy high-level nuclear waste transport containers, and allow the nuclear industry to make design changes to licensed containers without prior NRC approval.

“The NRC admits that there is no quantitative data which would conclusively show that harmonization improves public safety,” said Bob Halstead, transportation advisor to the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. “We are particularly concerned about NRC?s proposal to weaken the containment standards for plutonium waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) facility in New Mexico.”

International standards also feature more lenient submersion test requirements for high-level nuclear waste shipping canisters and specify allowable levels of contamination on shipments ? although the NRC is not currently proposing to adopt these changes.

“This proposed rulemaking fails to address any of our longstanding concerns about the inadequacies of regulatory standards governing irradiated fuel shipments,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen. “It does not even consider the specific implications of this administration?s plan to ship an unprecedented 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste on the roads, rails and waterways of 44 states and the District of Columbia.”

.The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), established in 1957 to promote nuclear technology internationally, has encouraged its 130 member countries ? including the United States ? to adopt its international standards for nuclear waste transportation, disposal and release into commerce.

“This trend of invoking international standards as a justification for undermining more stringent domestic requirements does not bode well for NRC and DOT regulation of proposed nuclear waste repository shipments,” Gue said.


* Agency for Nuclear Projects * American Public Health Association * Environmental Working Group * National Environmental Trust * Physicians for Social Responsibility * Public Citizen * U.S. PIRG *
Chair ? Jim Hall