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Strong Radiation Protection Standards Essential

Feb. 14, 2001

Strong Radiation Protection Standards Essential
For Scientific Decision on Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The Bush administration should develop strong radiation protection standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of radiation, a dozen consumer and environmental groups said today. The national and Nevada-based groups, which actively oppose the Yucca Mountain repository proposal, were joined by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) in calling attention to the radiation protection standards used to evaluate site suitability.

Yucca Mountain, located near Las Vegas, Nev., is currently the only site under consideration for a potential dump for high-level radioactive waste generated by U.S. commercial reactors and weapons facilities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to set radiation protection standards for the site. The agency released a proposed rule for comment in 1999. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy (DOE) commented in favor of weaker standards, and a final rule has not yet been issued. The standard now falls to the new administration to issue in final form.

We urge the Bush administration to support a standard that at a minimum ensures:

  • exposure limits at least equivalent to the EPA’s generic radioactive waste disposal standard, in terms of annual dose to the most vulnerable persons (e.g. fetuses, children, the elderly);
  • groundwater protection consistent with the Safe Drinking Water Act;
  • a regulatory timeframe that covers the entire period the material would be dangerously radioactive; and,
  • compliance at the boundary of the repository so as to not allow for a buffer zone.

While campaigning in Nevada last fall, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney promised to base a decision about the contentious Yucca Mountain proposal on sound science. The new administration has an early opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to this pledge by establishing a radiation protection rule that requires radioactive waste to be isolated from people and the environment. More lenient standards would threaten public health and promote a reliance on merely dilution — rather than containment — of nuclear waste to meet regulatory requirements. This would be a travesty of the scientific concept undergirding the proposal for a geologic repository, the groups said.

The DOE is expected later this year to recommend the Yucca Mountain site for development as a permanent repository for 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste. A favorable recommendation is contingent on an assessment of whether a Yucca Mountain repository could meet EPA radiation protection standards.

Radiation standards are of critical importance for public health and environmental protection – quite literally a matter of life and death. Therefore, on behalf of their combined memberships across the country, the following organizations urge the Bush administration to live up to its campaign promises by establishing strong radiation protection standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository: Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Public Citizen, Sierra Club, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Women’s Legislative Lobby (WiLL), Citizen Alert, Healing Ourselves and Mother Earth (HOME), Nevada Desert Experience, Nevada Nuclear Waste Taskforce, Toiyabe (Nevada Chapter) Sierra Club.

Bipartisan political leadership in Nevada shared the concerns of these groups.

“Last year, it required a presidential veto to stop efforts to strip away the role of the EPA in establishing radiation standards for Yucca Mountain, and I would hope the new administration will pledge to do the same if required,” said Sen. Reid. “During her confirmation hearing I received an assurance from EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman that her agency would continue to set radiation standards for Yucca Mountain. The Bush administration must honor that commitment to protect the health and safety of Nevadans by requiring a stringent radiation standard, not one which is supported by the greedy nuclear power industry.”

Nevada?s governor, Guinn, has received promises from President Bush that radiation protection standards would not be lowered or transferred to another agency. The state continues to insist that Nevadans are entitled to the same level of radiation protection as other Americans and that standards for a Yucca Mountain repository cannot be more lenient than those governing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

Added Sen. Ensign, “I welcome this call for the strongest possible radiation protection standards when it comes to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. I have every confidence this administration will follow through on promises made during the campaign, to let the Environmental Protection Agency set those standards. If sound science truly governs this process, then nuclear waste will not be dumped in Nevadans? backyard in the first place.”

In conjunction with other groups in Nevada, Citizen Alert has prepared a detailed position paper on the proposed EPA radiation standards from a Nevada perspective, which will be ready for release within the next 10 days.


For more information about these groups and nuclear issues, view the following Web sites:

Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA): www.ananuclear.org

Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS): www.nirs.org

Public Citizen: www.citizen.org/cmep

Sierra Club: www.sierraclub.org/nuke

U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG): www.uspirg.org

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Women’s Legislative Lobby (WiLL): www.wand.org

Citizen Alert: www.citizenalert.org

Nevada Desert Experience: nevadadesertexperience.org

Toiyabe (Nevada Chapter) Sierra Club: www.sierraclub.org/chapters/nv