In a strongly worded letter to Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner voiced strong opposition to a provision in a Senate nuclear waste bill that would set a radiation release standard for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste repository that is between 4 and 25 times less stringent than for any other nuclear facility in the country.
S1271 would arbitrarily set the limit on the amount of permissible radiation exposure from a Yucca Mountain facility at 100 millirems per year. By comparison, the Safe Drinking Water Act allows exposures of only 4 millirems per year and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations for low-level waste sites permit just 25 millirems per year exposures.
In her letter, Browner articulated the Administrationís position that the legislated radiation exposure standard in S1271 ignores the recommendations of the [National Academy of Sciences] and international advisory bodies. She went on to point out that the bill sets a standard that is not protective of public health and the environment and allows exposures of future generations of Nevadans that are much higher than those allowed for other Americans and citizens of other countries and reiterated President Clintonís promise to veto the bill if it were presented to him in its current form.
Governor Bob Miller responded angrily to the billís provision to afford Nevadans less protection than citizens of other states to exposures from ionizing radiation. There is no room in this country for extremist views when it comes to protecting the public from radiation risks, he said. This is outrageous. It is phony science being pushed by the nuclear industry in a desperate attempt to keep the failing Yucca Mountain project alive. We cannot allow the health and safety of Nevadans to be sacrificed on the political altar of the nuclear industry. Congress must not change well-established radiation safety standards. Bob Loux, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, the State office responsible for overseeing the federal high-level nuclear waste program, noted that the attempt to legislate weaker radiation exposure standards for Yucca Mountain is part of a continuing effort by DOE and nuclear industry supporters in Congress to move the goal posts whenever it becomes apparent that Yucca Mountain canít meet some preset health and safety requirement.
The original idea in looking for a suitable repository site was to find one that would meet all of the requirements for keeping people safe from radiation exposures for thousands of years, said Loux. If the site you were evaluating didnít meet those requirements, you looked for another site. But what has happened at Yucca Mountain is the antithesis of this scientific process. Loux noted that DOE has sought to change the requirements for radioactive Carbon 14 emissions at the Nevada site and is also hinting at seeking changes to the groundwater standards that, at their present level, could disqualify Yucca Mountain.
You donít build credibility and public confidence by juggling the health and safety regulations to fit the site, said Loux. If Yucca Mountain canít meet exposure [or other] standards, you donít have a site. Itís that simple.