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EPA's New Public Health Standards for Nuclear Waste Dump Based on Politics, Not Protecting the Public

October 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008         
Contact: Michele Boyd, 202-667-4260

Washington, DC - New final public health radiation standards for the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada don’t meet long-held or scientific standards for safety and appear to have been pushed out in the closing months of the Bush administration, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) charged today.  The new standards for the proposed high-level radioactive waste dump were released yesterday.

“The fact is, EPA has yet to release a public health and safety radiation standard for Yucca Mountain that actually protects the public when the risks are highest,” said Michele Boyd, director of PSR’s Safe Energy program.  “This rule, pushed out in the last months of the Bush administration, comes months after the Department of Energy submitted its license application for Yucca Mountain.  It seems like it was driven by a political timeline, not public safety.”

EPA’s final standard sets the radiation exposure limit of 15 millirems per year to the Reasonably Maximally Exposed Individual for the first 10,000 years.  Between 10,000 and one million years, the exposure limit is increased to 100 millirems per year, which is more than six times as much as what is permitted for the first 10,000 years.  EPA’s previous standard was voided by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals because it did not comply with the National Academy of Sciences finding that there is “no scientific basis for limiting the time period of the individual-risk standard to 10,000 years.”

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of setting weaker health standards for our descendents than for us,” said Boyd.  “It’s a slippery slope because it says future generations have less value than we do today.  The principle of intergenerational equity has been the foundation of U.S. and international public health and safety laws.”

“EPA has for decades declared that any radiation doses above 15 to 20 millirems per year to be inadequate to protect public health,” said Dr. Michael McCally, PSR’s executive director. “According to the National Academy of Sciences, any exposure to radiation will increase an individual’s risk for getting cancer. In fact, 18,000 people in the U.S. die of cancer every year from exposure to background radiation.”

The EPA's final rule also maintains the draft rule's abandonment of a groundwater protection standard after the first 10,000 years. EPA refused to consider public comments on this vital issue.

“The groundwater under Yucca is used for drinking and irrigation in Amargosa Valley, an organic farming community, and in Southern California. It is the primary pathway by which the public will be exposed to radiation,” said McCally. “DOE’s models show that the groundwater will be increasingly contaminated after 10,000 years as the standard is weakened by more than 600 percent.”

The EPA also refused to reconsider its definition of the Reasonably Maximally Exposed Individual as “rural-residential,” rather than a “subsistence farmer” who raises his or her own food and drinks water from the site and would reasonably be more exposed to radiation.



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