WASHINGTON, August 30, 1999 - Reacting to the radiation protection standards the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing for the Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste repository, the advocacy group Public Citizen announced the measures are inadequate for the protection of human health.
According to the Daily Environment Report Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project stated that, if approved, the standard would "lead to serious health problems such as cancer and genetic defects in residents near the facility many years into the future." The group is one of a coalition of environmental and public health organizations opposed to the EPA's proposed standards including the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club, the Women's Legislator's Lobby, and other public interest groups.
If built, the Yucca Mountain facility, a deep underground repository for radioactive waste primarily from nuclear power plants, would be operated by the Department of Energy. However, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 places the responsibility of setting protective standards for radioactive material stored or disposed of at Yucca Mountain with the EPA.
Earlier this month EPA proposed a dose-based standard of 150 microsieverts (15 millirem) per year as the exposure limit for people living near the site. It also suggested a 10,000 year compliance period and, over the objections of the Nuclear Energy Institute which represents nuclear power plants, proposed a separate ground water standard of 4 millirem per year. The industry group has argued in favor of only an exposure standard claiming that a water standard could threaten the entire project.
One of Public Citizen's biggest objections is that the exposure standard only extends to 10,000 years. It bases this objection on the Department of Energy's estimate that the peak dose of radiation will occur 300,000 years after waste is placed in the facility.
"Drafting a standard that does not fully protect all Nevadans is an example of the federal government ignoring its moral obligation to protect its citizens," said Wenonah Hauter, director of the Critical Mass Project. "The children of the next 1,000 generations should not be cancer patients because the nuclear industry insists on less protection."
In the meantime, two pending bills in Congress to revise the Nuclear Waste Policy Act would strip the EPA of authority to set any standards at Yucca Mountain at all. The bills themselves would set the standards. According to Ms. Hauter, the congressional standards would result in even greater cancer risk than the EPA standards. She states that "this is a clear indication of the standard being written to overcome the site's deficiencies." The citizens groups would like to have all radioactive waste left in place for 10 to 30 years in the hope that new technologies will be developed to take care of the problem.