Action Alert


Protect present and future generations at Yucca Mountain, Nevada


Comment on EPA's radiation standards for the proposed national high-level nuclear waste repository before the November 26th deadline. EPA needs to hear from as many people and organizations as we can muster.

EPA published its proposed rule on August 27th, 1999 in the Federal Register. EPA instructs that two copies of your comments should be sent to: Central Docket Section (6102); ATTN: Docket A-95-12; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 401 M Street, SW; Washington, D.C. 20460-0001.

If you would rather e-mail or fax your comments. we have tried to determine if EPA will accept public comments via e-mail or even fax, but have yet to hear back. The contact person listed in the Federal Register notice is Ray Clark in EPA's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. His phone number is (202) 564-9300. Call him to see if it is possible.

We must make clear our full support of EPA as the standard setter for Yucca Mountain. The nuclear industry's primary proponent in the U.S. Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman Frank Murkowski (Republican from Alaska), has proposed replacing EPA with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - the ultimate case of the fox guarding the hen house. Murkowski's S. 1287, the latest incarnation of the Mobile Chernobyl bill, is slated to hit the Senate floor for a vote early next year. It attempts to lock-in Yucca Mountain as the repository by gutting radiation protection standards. President Clinton has vowed to veto S. 1287 because it removes EPA from the standard setting role. In the face of such pressure, we must encourage EPA to stand strong in its role as protector of the public's health and the environment.

Despite EPA's clear mandate under current law as the standard setter, NRC jumped the gun on EPA and proposed its own radiation standards for Yucca Mountain in February of this year. NRC's standards are much weaker than EPA's, especially concerning groundwater protection. Leaks from the repository into the groundwater constitute the primary pathway that people downstream would be exposed to harmful radioactivity. Despite this, NRC does not even intend to establish a separate groundwater protection standard. NRC would allow up to 25 millirems per year exposure via groundwater. EPA's proposal DOES include a separate groundwater protection standard, the 4 millirem per year limit found in the Safe Drinking Water Act. We must encourage EPA to keep its separate groundwater protection standard and to uphold the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Even though we support the separate groundwater protection standard, and much prefer EPA rather than NRC as the regulator, we still need to yell at EPA for not doing its job well enough. Following are some basic talking points you might consider including in your comments. Sorry for the short notice on getting this out. PLEASE make the effort to send in even brief comments - the more people EPA hears from, the more pressure they will feel to do the right thing and not cave in to nuclear industry, Department of Energy (DOE), NRC, or Congressional pressures to lower standards so that Yucca Mountain would still qualify to serve as the repository despite its severe, disqualifying shortcomings.

TALKING POINTS & WHY EPA NEEDS TO HEAR FROM ALL OF US:

Time period for compliance: EPA has decided to substitute DELAY of repository leakage in place of reduction or prevention of repository leakage. This abandons any inkling of waste isolation, which was supposedly the basis for pursuing geological disposal in the first place. EPA proposes to require compliance to their standards for only the first 10,000 years. But the DOE has projected that peak doses will occur at 100,000 years and after, and would be orders of magnitude higher than EPA's proposed standard. There is no justification for ignoring the period of greatest threat to public safety. EPA must protect people who live more than 10,000 years in the future. Given the projected doses, it is clear that EPA's standard that expires in 10,000 years will not protect future generations. To do extended projections of doses without extended standards is to know the danger without preventing it. This is like saying as long as the teenagers wait until their parents leave for the evening, it is ok for them to destroy the living room furniture, or even burn down the house.

Location for compliance: Another problem is that EPA is floating out 4 scenarios for where they will allow DOE to measure the groundwater to see if it meets the groundwater protection standard. One of these proposals would effectively create a 20 kilometer (12 mile) sacrifice zone beyond the site boundary. What good is a site boundary if that is not where we measure the release levels of the site? Given that over thousands of years humans could very well settle near Yucca Mountain, the location for compliance should be right at the site boundary. Even EPA's compliance location at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is set at 5 km from the site boundary. Are Nevadans less deserving of protection than New Mexicans?

Human population to be protected: All of EPA's scenarios for where to measure the rate of release of radioactivity allow a large amount of assumed dilution before anyone living downstream would ingest it. Besides the fact that dilution is not the solution to pollution, another underlying issue here is who does EPA mean when it talks about someone getting a dose? EPA talks a good talk.in saying they are looking at the .reasonably maximally exposed individual - .rmei. However, EPA acknowledges that their arbitrarily defined "rmei" gets only about half the dose that a subsistence farmer would -- someone who drinks contaminated water and raises all his food with contaminated water. The subsistence farmer has traditionally been used to set all previous radiation standards worldwide. Why does EPA not set protection standards with subsistence farmers in mind? It is actually a very good possibility that there will be subsistence farmers living downstream from Yucca Mountain over the course of thousands of years into the future. The baby in the womb of a woman subsistence farmer would be the most vulnerable of all to radiation's harmful.effects - this should serve as the definition for the .rmei to be protected from releases from Yucca Mountain.

NIRS of course advocates that nuclear waste must be isolated from the environment for the full extent of its hazardous life with zero release of radioactivity. We already know that Yucca Mountain cannot deliver this. If engineered rather than natural barriers are our best option, then we should start over and talk about where is the most reasonable and viable place to accomplish this. Once again, we have the gravest of risks -- over 95% of the radioactivity from ALL SOURCES of the nuclear industry in the US would be sent to this site if it's approved -- being given exemptions from even the already permissive level of regulation. Instead of being more stringent and protective, EPA is participating in the politically-driven competition to see who can shoot the biggest loopholes in the standards so that Yucca Mountain can be approved NO MATTER WHAT.

Please take a few minutes to submit comments to EPA. It's hard to believe that anyone would advocate a repository designed to leak, and yet EPA's proposed standards would allow just that. If you need assistance or have questions, please contact me. If you would like to.read Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project's .Comments on EPA Proposed Rule-Environmental Radiation Standards for Yucca Mountain, Neveda (40 CFR 197),. go to their website at.http://www.citizen.org/cmep, and look under .What's New under the date November 15th. Watch for NIRS completed comments early next week on our website, www.nirs.org.

Thank you.

Kevin Kamps
Nuclear Information & Resource Service
Phone (202) 328-0002
e-mail: kevinkamps@yahoo.com