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Statement by the Plaintiffs in the Case Against the EPA’s Radiation Release Standards for the Yucca Mountain Repository

Jan. 14, 2004

Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana ∙ Citizen Alert ∙ Nevada Desert Experience ∙ Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force ∙ Nuclear Information and Resource Service ∙ Natural Resources Defense Council ∙ Public Citizen

Statement by the plaintiffs in the case against the EPA’s radiation release standards for the Yucca Mountain repository

We are convinced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) radiation release standards for the Yucca Mountain repository will not protect the health of future generations. We are optimistic that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears oral arguments today in a lawsuit seeking to block the new standards, will come to this conclusion as well.

The EPA arbitrarily gerrymandered the site boundary to meet radiation release standards to compensate for Yucca Mountain’s unsuitable geology. Written specifically for Yucca Mountain, the new boundary allows radiation that leaks from the high-level waste to pollute the aquifer and migrate with the groundwater south to a farming community. An unprecedented 18-kilometer “controlled area,” in which people are not supposed to access the water for 10,000 years, is being contested by this lawsuit. Outside this huge sacrifice zone, the groundwater is not supposed to be contaminated above standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA claims that it would be too expensive to drill wells in this 18-kilometer area, but two drinking water wells already exist in this area, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) own research has found that drilling in a similar geographical area in Colorado is economically viable. It is also unreasonable to assume that the government will be able to maintain institutional control over any region for the next 10,000 years to prevent future generations from drilling there.

The site boundary is only about eight miles from Amagosa Valley, an agricultural area where groundwater is used for irrigation. Moreover, the EPA rule arbitrarily limits the regulatory compliance period to 10,000 years, even though studies show that the maximum doses from the repository are likely to occur in 300,000 years or more.

While the Nuclear Waste Policy Act gives the EPA discretion in setting public health standards at the repository, the current EPA rules were written to enable the site to be licensed, not to protect the health of future generations.

We seek to have the EPA’s Yucca Mountain rules set aside and sent back to the agency to be made consistent with the standards now in effect for other repositories and adjusted to protect people and the environment for the dangerous lifetime of the waste. Because the financial and public health impacts of the Yucca Mountain project will affect people well into the future, we believe that any decision with respect to licensing Yucca Mountain should be based on prudent analysis and public health standards, not political expediency. If the court sends the rules back to the EPA, the project could be delayed for years, and even permanently abandoned if radiation release limits cannot be met. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Yucca licensing rules, which depend on EPA’s rules, would also have to be redrafted.

At the same time, this court’s decision is not the end of the opposition to the Yucca Mountain repository. DOE must still apply and get a construction license from the NRC, and crucial questions about the adequacy of the site remain to be answered. We will remain involved in that process as long as it takes.