Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Advocates question radiation standards

EPA urged to withdraw Yucca proposal


WASHINGTON -- Environmental and health advocates on Tuesday urged the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its proposed radiation standard for Yucca Mountain, saying it sets bad precedent and weakens safeguards.

"Hurricane Katrina taught us that unexpected catastrophic events are possible and that we need to pay more attention to public health, not less. The Bush administration and EPA should go back to the drawing board," said David Hamilton, Sierra Club global warming and energy director.

Hamilton's comments typified those of a dozen speakers at the fourth and final public hearing on the EPA's draft radiation exposure regulations for the proposed Nevada nuclear waste repository. Three hearings were held in Nevada last week.

Several others spoke favorably of the EPA effort.

David Wright, a member of the South Carolina Public Service Commission, said to the extent the agency attempted to set protections that would cover up to a million years, the proposal was "well-reasoned."

The radiation standard is a key measure that the Energy Department must show through computer modeling that it can meet in order to win a repository license for the site located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas

The EPA, responding to a 2004 federal court ruling that threw out an earlier radiation safety plan, has proposed a new two-part standard.

For the first 10,000 years of repository operations, DOE would need to show that a person living about 11 miles away would be exposed to no more than 15 millirem of radiation annually.

For comparison, EPA officials have said that a chest X-ray exposes a person to 10 millirem and a mammogram exposes a person to 30 millirem.

For the long term, beyond 10,000 years, when scientists are less certain of predicting climate, geology and societal conditions, EPA proposed an annual exposure limit of 350 millirem out to 1 million years.

"Our proposal, we believe, is protective and appropriate," said Elizabeth Cotsworth, director of the EPA Office of Air and Radiation.

She said she was unsure when EPA would issue its final decision after weighing public reaction.

Representatives of public interest groups testified the EPA plan was flawed.

Robert Musil, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the EPA "for decades" had argued for radiation standards of 15 to 25 millirem, "and that doses above 100 millirem per year produce unacceptable levels of risk."

A Yucca standard of 350 millirem would risk more cancer deaths.


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