On the March 5 program of Alan Stahler’s program Soundings on KVMR, Arjun Makhijani discusses nuclear waste disposal, Yucca Mountain, and what the U.S. is doing to manage the nation’s radioactive waste.
Published on March 05, 2013 by IEER Administrator in
Nuclear Energy Institute is Pushing NRC to Shortchange Environmental Review of Long-Term Radioactive Waste Storage
In Seeking “Hurry Up” Outcome, NEI Even Urges NRC to Rely on Secret Papers That Cannot be Found by Agency;
Industry Seeks to Undercut Serious Review of Reactor Pool Fires, Other Risks.
WASHINGTON, D.C.///January 15, 2013///The nuclear industry’s trade association – the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – is pushing so hard to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to do a hurry-up version of a court-ordered environmental impact statement (EIS) on the long-term storage of nuclear waste that it is even pressuring the federal agency to rely on such unsatisfactory “evidence” as secret reports that the agency has reported as being lost, according to supplemental comments filed today by 24 leading national and grassroots environment groups.
Could it really be that the NEI was unaware of the studies being secret or that the NRC has lost track of some of them?
In comments available online, the groups warn that, in seeking a slapdash report carried out on a truncated two-year timeline, NEI is placing the industry’s economic agenda ahead of public safety and also “flouting” the U.S. Court of Appeals order that forced the NRC to scrap its previous waste confidence rule (WCR) and to compile a serious-minded EIS about long-term nuclear reactor waste storage issues.
In rebutting NEI’s January 2013 submission to the NRC, the groups expose how the trade group is making every and any argument necessary to rush through the EIS process in two years specifically so that pending reactor licenses can proceed unimpeded. In doing so, NEI goes to considerable lengths to argue that all or most of the information the NRC needs for the EIS is already at hand.
The secret missing documents are a case in point. In its filing, the NEI claims that the NRC “has previously compiled numerous technical studies regarding the risks and environmental impacts of onsite spent fuel storage that it can rely on in assessing both the probabilities and consequences of spent fuel pool fires.” However, the truth is that there has been no such new public study undertaken in more than a decade, none of the available old studies meets the requirements for an EIS, whatever new information the NRC has on the topic is either classified or otherwise withheld from public disclosure and, to make things even worse, the classified studies have gone missing, according to a NRC statement to the General Accountability Office (GAO).
“This is literally a case where the nuclear industry is saying that NRC should refurbish existing environmental studies that are obviously inadequate, in order to do the environmental impact statement in the impossibly short period of time of two years. We know from the staff of the NRC itself that much more time will be needed for a thorough review in order to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEI’s arguments also flout the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), which forbids the NRC from elevating the economic interests of the nuclear industry over NRC’s responsibility to protect public health and safety and the environment.
Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said:
“Politically motivated approaches to the EIS without the data to actually analyze the impacts required to be estimated by the court’s order will result in a scientifically unacceptable EIS. The NRC just doesn’t have the data at present to do an EIS and needs to gather it. The NEI is quite wrong to say that the Yucca Mountain EIS provides many of the needed answers. It does not because, among other things, it deliberately and admittedly underestimated the impacts.”
John Runkle, attorney, NC WARN, said:
“Every time in the last 30 years when we raised the issue of what to do with the highly radioactive spent fuel, the NRC has told us it was confident that one day there would be a solution. Right now, we’re not confident the NRC is committed to finding that solution.”
Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director, Riverkeeper, Inc., said:
“NEI suggests that the NRC continue cutting critical and necessary analyses off at the knees. Spent fuel leaks are an ever-growing problem that NRC must account for and fill in the glaring gaps in existing assessments.”
The 24 groups filing today’s supplemental comments are: Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Citizens Environmental Awareness of Southern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan, Ecology Party of Florida, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, NC WARN, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, New England Coalition, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Riverkeeper, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, SEED Coalition, Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Other problems with the NEI filings highlighted by the groups:
NEI errs in suggesting that old information about spent fuel leaks should be adequate for the EIS process. NEI’s arguments on this point openly flout the mandate of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. As the Court explained, the NRC’s existing studies are inadequate for the very reason that they rely on studies of past leaks. As the Court observed, “the harm from past leaks – without more – tells us very little about the potential for future leaks or the harm such leaks might portend.” The Court also found inadequate the NRC’s assertions regarding “untested” prospective regulatory improvements to spent fuel pools, and existing monitoring and compliance programs that are “in no way sufficient to support a scientific finding that spent-fuel pools will not cause a significant environment (sic) impact during the extended storage period.” Instead, the Court ordered the NRC to undertake a new, forward-looking analysis — the very thing the NEI does not want done.
NEI argues incorrectly that the NRC can wrap up the EIS in just two years. But NEI’s arguments are directly contradicted by NRC’s own documents, which show that far more information is needed than is currently available in order to support the Waste Confidence Decision. NRC staff has stated that it will take at least seven years to evaluate the environmental impacts of long-term spent fuel storage. Additionally, the NRC has years of research to do in order to gather sufficient data regarding spent fuel degradation and transportation and handling risks. Furthermore, post-Fukushima seismic geologic data, which will take years to gather and analyze, should be awaited because it bears on the safety and environmental impacts of long-term spent fuel disposal.
NEI is wrong in suggesting that the NRC can recycle Yucca Mountain EIS information. The Yucca Mountain EIS is replete with examples of underestimated impacts for the scenarios where there is no repository. The goal there was to show that the preferred option, a repository, would have lower impacts even in such a case. The goal for the present EIS is to make a scientifically defensible analysis that properly takes into account the major impacts of never having a repository.
On January 2, 2013, two dozen national and grassroots environmental groups said it would be impossible for the NRC to adequately conduct a court-ordered assessment of the environmental implications of long-term storage of spent nuclear reactor fuel in the two short years the federal agency envisions for the process. The groups’ comments and related declarations by experts are available online. (The new rebuttal filing is a supplement to the January 2nd filing.)
In their early January filings, the 24 groups said a full review of the three issues outlined in June 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – long-term storage risks for spent nuclear fuel, spent fuel pool fire risks, and spent fuel pool leakage risks – would take at least the seven years originally projected by the NRC staff, and likely considerably longer. Current federal law requires that the NRC conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement study before issuing a revised Waste Confidence Decision; the 24 groups submitted their comments about the appropriate “scoping” of the EIS.
In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the NRC’s 2010 Waste Confidence Decision and Temporary Storage Rule and remanded them to the agency for study of the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel indefinitely if no permanent nuclear waste repository is licensed or if licensing of a repository is substantially delayed. Spent nuclear fuel remains highly dangerous for long periods of time. It has long-lived radioactive materials in it that can seriously contaminate the environment and harm public health if released. Additionally, spent nuclear fuel contains plutonium-239, a radiotoxic element that can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated from the other materials in the fuel.
CONTACT: Alex Frank, (703) 276-3264 or email@example.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.hastingsgroupmedia.com/011513nrcsupplementcomments.mp3 as of 5 p.m. EST on January 15, 2013.
Published on January 15, 2013 by IEER Administrator in
These are initial comments of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) on NRC docket NRC-2011-012, including two documents cited below in Footnote 1.
The time allowed for comments – one month, including the Christmas and New Year’s holidays – is unreasonably short, especially given the fact that the deadline for comments on the waste confidence rule scoping comments was January 2, 2013. IEER reserves the right to make future additional comments or more detailed comments at a later date but before February 7, 2013.
I have made a number of comments formally and informally on elements of NRC 2011 on many occasions, including at the invitation of the NRC staff. By-and-large, the proposed revisions ignore essentials of my comments at best. The NRC has ignored sound science and common sense in many aspects of the proposed rule.
The proposed rule revisions constitute a major federal action. For instance, they would potentially allow large amounts of long-lived radionuclides, including hundreds of thousands of tons of depleted uranium from enrichment plants and possibly even wastes currently defined as Greater-than-Class-C waste, to be disposed of in shallow land facilities. It is therefore incumbent on the NRC to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed revisions, setting forth and analyzing reasonable alternatives as well as a no-action alternative.
I provided comments to NRC Chairman Macfarlane on a variety of issues in a memorandum to her dated November 14, 2012.  The comments on 10 CFR 61 are incorporated here by reference except that on one point, a method for setting limits on total quantities of radionuclides, they are amended somewhat and amplified here. On this one point, the present comments should be taken into account.
A definition of the term “member of the public” should be provided in the rule. It should explicitly include people of all ages, including infants and children, and including males as well as females. Annual dose compliance should be explicitly assessed to the member of the public who is estimated to get the largest dose according to this definition.
The proposed revised language of 10 CFR 61.41 (the proposed 10 CFR 61.41(a)) drops organ doses altogether from the rule. This is unacceptable; it would cause a massive relaxation of allowable pollution and organ doses from many radionuclides including all actinides, strontium-90, and various radioiodines. The language of the present 10 CFR 61.41 – “Concentrations of radioactive material which may be released to the general environment in ground water, surface water, air, soil, plants, or animals must not result in an annual dose exceeding an equivalent of 25 millirems to the whole body, 75 millirems to the thyroid, and 25 millirems to any other organ of any member of the public” should be retained with the explicit clarification that “any member of the public” includes males and females of all ages, including male and female infants and children. Generally guidance for the rule and for compliance assessment and enforcement should explicitly reference the Executive Order on Children (Executive Order 13045 at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/nepapub/nepa_documents/RedDont/Req-EO13045childenvtlhealth.pdf)
External dose compliance calculations should take into account that children are smaller and hence their various organs are closer to the ground (and hence to contamination that is present on the ground). These organs include their reproductive organs. This is especially important for female children.
The proposed language of 10 CFR 61.41a does not specify what guidance document will be used for dose calculations. It should specify that the EPA’s current guidance – Federal Guidance Report 13 – will be used. At present FGR 13 does not contain separate dose conversion factors  for males and females. Therefore, the rule should also specify that when the EPA publishes separate dose conversion factors for males and females that they will be automatically incorporated into compliance assessment.
Ten thousand years as a compliance period is both too short and too long. It is too short because some radioactive materials have half-lives that are far longer. For instance, the half-life of uranium-238, the main constituent of depleted uranium, is over 4.4 billion years. Its specific activity grows over hundreds of thousands of years due to the growth of progeny (uranium-234, thorium-230, and radium-226). The proposed rule is unacceptably vague about the protection of the public for long periods, including periods beyond the 10,000 years period to which explicit compliance with 10 CFR 61.41 is proposed to be limited. For instance, the proposed 10 CFR 61.13(e) simply says that long-term radiological impact analysis will be required only if there are wastes exceeding Class A limits (by reference to Table 1 in 10 CFR 61.55) “or if necessitated by site-specific factors including engineering design, operational practices, and site characteristics.” This language does not specify what factors would trigger such a special analysis. Nor does it state that if long-lived radionuclides (according to the NRC’s proposed definition) are present, that such an analysis would be required.
At the same time, 10,000 years is a very long-time for analysis of performance of shallow land systems. Ice ages can occur and have occurred on time scales that are similar. Severe climate disruption due to warming is already occurring, according to the best available scientific evidence and analysis. The NRC’s own invited experts to the 2009 depleted uranium workshop considered 10,000 years far too long for reasonable modeling of shallow land facilities. Specifically, Peter Burns, a geochemist, stated “I was particularly amused by the climatic divisions, none of which can be relied on, even perhaps at 1,000 but certainly not in 10,000 or 100,000 (years). As an example, I am a geoscientist. So I have this rare ability to see into the far distant past. (Laughter.) And I know, for example, that Death Valley was filled with about 1,000 feet of water 10,000 years ago. And that tells you how much the climate can change in the arid regions.”  The NRC has ignored this advice and the underlying science. No scientifically sound calculation for shallow land disposal can be done over such a long period without uncertainties that would be huge – potentially involving several orders of magnitude of uncertainty in the dose. The proposed 10 CFR 61.13 would require that “uncertainties” be taken into account (at (a)(6)) in providing the “reasonable assurance” of compliance. But it provides no clue as to how climate disruption would be taken into account. Indeed, the word “climate” does not even appear in the proposed text, let alone a definition of climate change or climate disruption. The language regarding uncertainties in the proposed 10 CFR 61 is clearly pro forma; as it currently stands it would have little scientific connection to the real world even over a few hundred years, let alone 10,000 years.
The rule should acknowledge that the risks from disposal of long-lived radionuclides, like plutonium-239 or the constituents of depleted uranium over time in shallow land facilities, are too uncertain to be accurately modeled. It would be unacceptable to dispose of large amounts of long-lived radionuclides or long-lived radionuclides in high-concentrations in shallow land facilities. This means that depleted uranium from enrichment plants, recycled uranium, and other such waste streams that resemble Greater-than-Class-C waste or transuranic waste should be banned from shallow land facilities and be explicitly designated for deep disposal without exception and without any loopholes allowing for special exceptions or permits.
It is acknowledged here that wastes containing mainly short-lived radionuclides cannot exclude every iota of long-lived material. This is the reason for having concentration limits. The current GTCC limits should be maintained. Depleted uranium and recycled uranium (whether depleted or not), large amounts of thorium-232 and other similar materials should be added to the GTCC list. Long-lived radionuclides should be defined as those having half-lives of more than 10 years, which is compatible with an institutional control period of 100 years (ten half-lives). The definition of long-lived radionuclides in the proposed rule at 61.2 is far too expansive in the context of shallow land burial.
Total curie limits are needed in addition to the present GTCC concentration definition in 10 CFR 61.55, and the proposed additions to that definition in paragraph 12 above. For instance, Class C waste containing less than a hundred curies of carbon-14 (half-life 5,730 years), even under the current Class C concentration limits, can pollute groundwater (at least at Hanford) to levels exceeding safe drinking water standards as well as the 10 CFR 61 dose limits. This was the result as estimated by the Department of Energy’s calculations for the reactor graphite disposal at the Hanford site.  Hundreds of curies disposed of in similar conditions would violate the present 10 CFR 61.41 without violating Class C concentration limits.
The above considerations indicate that a method must be found to protect the public based on the current 10 CFR 61.41 (modified to explicitly include all members of the public, including males and females of all ages) without crossing the boundary of scientific reasonableness and common sense. As can be seen from paragraph 13 above, the current rule does not do that. The proposed rule would, overall, make the problem a lot worse.
I proposed one way to limit the total amount of long-lived radioactivity in a waste disposal facility in my memorandum to Chairman Macfarlane of November 14, 2012. I stated: “One way to set these limits could be to examine a hypothetical worst-case pulse release of the entire inventory of long-lived radionuclides into the environment in various ways immediately after the end of the period of performance. The limits for long-lived radionuclides could be set so that the dose criteria would not be exceeded with any combination of long-lived radionuclides or release modes. This could allow upper curie limits to be derived in a scientifically reasonable way that would also ensure compliance with dose criteria.” This is a reasonable approach for radionuclides, such as carbon-14, that do not have build up of decay progeny, such as uranium-238. In the latter case, the peak inventory should be assumed to be released instantly. For instance, the inventory could be assumed to be exposed to the surface instantly for external dose assessment, from radium-226. Or a mixture of uranium-238 and its progeny could be assumed to be deposited in groundwater instantly. This would not be modeling in the conventional sense of choosing parameters such as erosion for the long-term. It would be a heuristic calculation that would indicate maximum conceivable dose at the end of the compliance period without involving methods that are technically indefensible for periods of thousands of years. The goal would be to assure protection of the public according to the same standards we expect for ourselves today. Wastes exceeding the concentrations or quantities as discussed above should be slated for deep geologic disposal, as is the case for DOE transuranic waste.
The proposed “intruder” dose limit of 500 millirem per year is unacceptably high. There is no moral rationale for allowing doses to future generations beyond 500 years, the proposed period of barrier life after which “intruders” could come into the site unrestricted, to be greater than those for those of the present public or the public in the coming decades. The proposed limit is five times bigger than the 10 CFR 20 limit for members of the public from all sources of man-made radioactivity (except medical). Intruder doses should be limited to the same doses as for the present and immediate future. Only the method of calculating them after the formal modeling performance period would change.
With the above provisos, and only with the above provisos, the compliance calculations done by formal modeling such as by the use of RESRAD or similar approaches, can be limited to 500 years. This would be a reasonable period since the NRC would limit for the durability of intruder barriers is 500 years. If the NRC does not adopt total radionuclide and concentration limits as above and the calculation methods for long-term public health protection along the lines suggested above, then the present language of 10 CFR 61, which does not have a time limit of compliance, should be maintained. This would not be a very good result but greatly preferable to the proposed changes in NRC 2011.
The revised rule should address how the NRC is going to assure the scientific soundness of the modeling. It should also create a process for making corrections of errors if and when they occur in licensing-related technical documents along with license amendments as needed such cases. I have pointed out the problem of some specific egregious errors and their persistence over many years in a number of forums, including in my memorandum to Chairman Macfarlane. Please refer to that document for more detail as well as references. It is important for the NRC to have a formal external, independent review procedure in done through blind contracts awarded from an escrow fund not controlled by the industry or by the NRC. The NRC should also have a procedure for promptly addressing technical errors pointed out by the public as part of the rule and for making the needed corrections should they be verified. Verification calculations should be published promptly.
The DOE calculated that disposing of 37,000 curies of carbon-14 on the Central Plateau would cause a contamination of 1.3 million picocuries per liter, or 650 times the drinking water limit of 2,000 picocuries per liter. See Attachment 3, pages 13 and 14 in Comments on Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford Site, Richland, Washington (DOE/EIS-0391), by the Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration and Waste Management (ERWM) Program and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. (March 18, 2010), on the Web http://ieer.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Tanks-Hanford-EIS-Comments-2010-YakamaNation_with_IEER.pdf. Assuming the same concentration and environmental conditions, a total source term of 57 curies would produce contamination to the drinking water limit. Adding pathways other than drinking water would of course add to the dose. ↩ Return
Published on January 07, 2013 by IEER Administrator in
Incomplete Process Should Trigger Continued Suspension of All Reactor Licensing, Re-Licensing
WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 3, 2013 – In documents filed Wednesday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a wide range of national and grassroots environmental groups said it would be impossible for the NRC to adequately conduct a court-ordered assessment of the environmental implications of long-term storage of spent nuclear reactor fuel in the two short years the federal agency envisions for the process.
In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the NRC’s 2010 Waste Confidence Decision and Temporary Storage Rule and remanded them to the agency for study of the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel indefinitely if no permanent nuclear waste repository is licensed or if licensing of a repository is substantially delayed. Spent nuclear fuel remains highly dangerous for prolonged periods. It has long-lived radioactive materials in it that can seriously contaminate the environment and harm public health if released. Additionally, spent nuclear fuel contains plutonium-239, a radiotoxic element that can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated from the other materials in the fuel. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 24,000 years.
In their filings, the 24 groups said a full review of the three issues outlined in June 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – long-term storage risks for spent nuclear fuel, spent fuel pool fire risks, and spent fuel pool leakage risks – would take at least the seven years originally projected by the NRC staff, and likely considerably longer. Current federal law requires that the NRC conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) study before issuing a revised Waste Confidence Decision; the 24 groups submitted their comments about the appropriate “scoping” of the EIS.
In the absence of an adequate EIS review, the NRC has “no choice but to continue to suspend all licensing and re-licensing actions” for U.S. nuclear reactors, according to the 24 organizations. All licensing and re-licensing actions were previously suspended by the NRC until an EIS and revised Waste Confidence Decision have been issued.
The 24 groups jointly filing the comments today with the NRC are the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Citizens Environmental Alliance, Don’t Waste Michigan, Ecology Party of Florida, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, New England Coalition, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, NC WARN, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Riverkeeper, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, SEED Coalition, Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The expert declarations were made by: Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; Dr. Gordon Thompson, executive director for the Institute for Resource and Security Studies; and Phillip Musegaas, Esq., Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, Inc.
Highlights of the 24-group filings include the following:
The “hurry-up” two-year timeframe for environmental review falls far short of the 2019 estimate of NRC’s own technical staff for data collecting and analysis on the impacts of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. The NRC currently lacks sufficient information to reach scientifically, well-founded conclusions about the impacts of such storage. The agency also lacks information regarding the impacts associated with the eventual disposal of spent nuclear fuel. According to Dr. Makhijani, the NRC will not be able to gather this information within its truncated, self-imposed two-year timeframe.
The short timeframe provided for environmental review will also not permit post-Fukushima information about U.S. reactors to be fully collected and evaluated. Under the schedule established by the NRC staff in March 2012, reactor licensees are not due to supply post-Fukushima seismic information until September 2013 for reactor sites in the eastern and central U.S. and March 2015 for western reactor sites. According to the groups’ filing with the NRC today: “Given the significant role played by seismic events in accidents ranging from spent fuel pool leaks to pool fires and their potential effects on long-term storage sites, this information is crucial to the NRC’s ability to take a ‘hard look’ at all three topics remanded by the Court.”
Despite the Court’s order to consider impacts associated with the failure to ever establish a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, the NRC proposed only to consider the impacts associated with failing to secure a repository by the end of this century. Dr. Makhijani and Dr. Thompson argue that the NRC should consider the environmental impacts of failing to establish a repository until 2250, requiring approximately 300 years of onsite storage.
The NRC should consider alternatives to minimize the risks of storage of spent nuclear fuel and high level waste, including placement below ground level, elimination of the current practice of high-density storage of spent fuel in pools, and more robust designs for storage casks.
The environmental impact statement should assess the radiological risk arising from a range of conventional accidents or attacks, including those conducted by terrorists.
MEDIA CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on January 03, 2013 by IEER Administrator in
To: Dr. Allison Macfarlane, Chairman, NRC
From: Arjun Makhijani
Subject: Some notes and references regarding our meeting on November 13, 2012
Date: November 14, 2012
Sent by email to Mary Woollen: Mary.Woollen@nrc.gov
Thank you very much for having taken the time to meet with me yesterday. This is to follow up and provide you with some notes and some URLs for reference to make it easier for you and your staff to pursue any of these points in more detail, should you wish to do so. My recommendations are in bold.
Our meeting covered three topics:
Pilot epi studies: Some issues relating to the pilot epidemiological studies that the NRC authorized a National Academies panel to pursue following the publication of the panel’s feasibility study and recommendations earlier this year.
Radiation risk communication by the NRC.
10 CFR 61: Some concerns that I have regarding the way that the NRC has been handling some scientific issues relating to low-level waste, including the potential revision of 10 CFR 61.
1. Pilot epi studies
I really appreciate that the NRC has decided to fund the pilot studies. However, IEER recommended that only the case control study should be done. This option was not discussed in the NRC’s memorandum authorizing the studies dated October 5, 2012 (SECY-12-0136). My comments on the feasibility study are at:
I am not asking for a revision of the NRC mandate to proceed with both the case control and the ecologic pilot studies. However, it would be useful, and may help avoid the controversies that are very likely to attend upon the ecologic study, if the panel were to pursue and publish its work in two parts – the children’s case control study first and then the ecologic study, with due attention to the lessons learned from the case control study.
It is important for the pilot study to consider the effects of more than one nuclear power plant if people are living in the shadow of more than one. Specifically, Dresden and Braidwood should be considered together, because there are people affected by both – like the Sauer family. Sarah Sauer had brain cancer at the age of 7; she was operated on and lives with severe aftereffects. Her father, a medical doctor, has done an important preliminary analysis of childhood cancer data in the area, despite facing many obstacles. He presented his work to the National Academies panel. His slides are at:
I know he would be happy to discuss his findings and experience with you. He can be reached by email and by phone. Sarah’s mother, his wife Cindy Sauer, has reviewed the above information.
Tritium is likely to be a critical radionuclide for estimating fetal dose from nuclear power plant operation. IEER concluded some time ago that the ICRP’s method of attributing the mother’s uterine wall dose from tritium (and from alpha-emitting radionuclides) to the embryo during the first eight weeks of pregnancy is incorrect. Though I have not yet looked at it specifically, it seems to me that the problem also extends to carbon-14, which was also identified as a key radionuclide in the feasibility study. The issue of a scientifically defensible approach for fetal dose estimation, especially during the early part of pregnancy, needs to be addressed because it is very important for a credible children’s case control study that is geared (rightly so, in my opinion) to the mother’s place of residence at the time of the birth of the child. IEER’s report, Science for the Vulnerable, which briefly covers this issue can be downloaded from the following URL:
I recommend that the NRC request the EPA’s Science Advisory Board or the National Academies Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation to provide it with scientific advice as expeditiously as possible on how fetal doses, including in the first eight weeks, from alpha emitters and relatively low-energy beta emitters, particularly tritium and carbon-14, should be calculated. This problem should also be addressed by the National Academies pilot study in the course of its work. I intend to bring it up in my initial comments when the panel starts its work.
A related data problem is that the NRC does not require monitoring of tritium in rainwater, though this is recognized as a potential issue by at least some in industry. This could be a crucial exposure pathway especially during pregnancy, notably for people with private wells. In 2006, Ken Sejkora of Entergy Nuclear Northeast (Pilgrim Station) estimated that under adverse weather conditions, episodic releases could result in concentrations as high as 36 million pCi/L – 180 times the drinking water limit close to the stack (probably onsite, though this is not explicitly stated). Sejkora used a source term of 1 Ci/day. While this choice is on the higher side of routine releases (for one sample year, 2004) I have looked at, even higher tritium source terms releases from US nuclear power plants have been measured. For instance, the Palo Verde plant reported 2,123 curies of tritium releases to the atmosphere in 2004 (all three reactors). The Sejkora reference is:
I recommend that the NRC require routine monitoring of rainwater around commercial nuclear reactors. The NRC should also encourage nuclear power plant owners to consider making funds voluntarily available to private well owners nearby in case the well-owners want to have their water tested for tritium and other radionuclides emitted from nuclear power plants.
2. NRC’s radiation risk communication
The NRC’s radiation risk communications with the public leave a lot to be desired. It would be extremely helpful if the NRC’s statements to the public on radiation risk clearly stated that the best scientific understanding of low level radiation risk for cancer is that there is no safe level of exposure. Only zero exposure results in zero cancer risk. Instead, of explaining that this is the basis of its own regulations and those of the EPA, the NRC’s website states the following:
The 620 millirem total includes natural background, indoor radon and even medical radiation, the risk of which is now a matter of considerable public concern, despite the benefits that may accrue from it to the person getting the radiation dose. Moreover, an annual US population exposure at this level per person would be associated with over 200,000 excess cancers per year, using an average risk coefficient for cancer incidence of 0.11 cancers per person-Sv. The statement on the NRC’s website seriously misleads the public and, in my opinion, negatively affects public confidence in the NRC. I recommend that it be replaced with a simple statement that reflects radiation risks as presented in the BEIR VII or EPA’s Federal Guidance Report 13 (FGR-13). The word “safe” should be not be used in the NRC’s public pronouncements about radiation unless the NRC is certain that there has been and will be no public exposure from the situation being discussed; in that case the statement should explicitly specify that the meaning of “safe” is that there has been no radiation exposure to the public due to the problem at hand. Guidance to that effect should be provided to licensees.
3. 10 CFR 61
I have long thought that waste classification should be made more rational; as you know, it is a widely held view. However, revising the low-level waste rule it should not become an occasion to loosen radiation protection or to make scientifically indefensible calculations.
First, the present Subpart C of 10 CFR 61 limits annual doses to the whole body or to any organ, except the thyroid, to 25 millirem per year; the thyroid dose limit is 75 millirem per year (10 CFR 61.41). In public documents and statements, such as SECY-08-187, the NRC has indicated that the organ dose requirement was not addressed in compliance modeling because using only the total effective dose equivalent (TEDE) is “modern” science. In fact, the most recent science of internal dosimetry is based on committed organ doses – as evidenced in the EPA’s FGR-13, which is its current guidance document. The internal dose portion of the TEDE is in fact derived from organ doses by attributing weighting factors to various organs, which have changed from time to time. It is much more sensible and scientific to rely on organ doses for internal doses than on an imputed whole body effective dose. TEDE is a useful concept for regulation, and I am not objecting to its use in compliance assessment, especially since it allows combining external and internal dose into a single number, which enables efficient compliance assessment. However, organ dose limits are central to existing radiation protection standards, especially for radionuclides that have preferred target organs, such as actinides, radioiodines, and strontium-90. By all means let’s go from ICRP 2, which dates from the late 1950s, to FGR-13, but the NRC should not use it as an occasion to relax radiation protection. It would be especially offensive if existing radiation protection were to be relaxed under cover of modernizing the science. Organ doses as defined in FGR-13 must be included in radiation protection rules, including in any revision of 10 CFR 61 Subpart C. The present numerical limits should be maintained, if not tightened. Since the rule is being revised, it should explicitly define a “member of the public” for purposes of compliance assessment as including males and females and people of all ages from infants on up.
Second, SECY-08-0187 also has a number of other problems such as million-year performance estimates for shallow land burial and other dubious assumptions, including achievement of the required site stability for the duration. This provides one argument for limiting the period of performance. But if the period of performance for low-level waste disposal is to be limited (at present there is no limit in Subpart C), then there should be strict limits on both the concentrations and the total curie amounts of long-lived radionuclides that can be disposed of in a facility licensed under 10 CFR 61.
I am taking the liberty of expanding on my comments yesterday on this point. One way to set these limits could be to examine a hypothetical worst-case pulse release of the entire inventory of long-lived radionuclides into the environment in various ways immediately after the end of the period of performance. The limits for long-lived radionuclides could be set so that the dose criteria would not be exceeded with any combination of long-lived radionuclides or release modes. This could allow upper curie limits to be derived in a scientifically reasonable way that would also ensure compliance with dose criteria. In this context, radionuclides with half-lives of more than ten years should be defined as long-lived. My reasoning is that ten such half-lives is a reasonable period for assuming the existence of institutional controls. All other low-level wastes, including depleted uranium from enrichment plants and Greater-than-Class-C waste as currently defined should be designated for deep geologic disposal. Two IEER reports on the LES proceeding which contain technical details on DU disposal are on the IEER website at:
These are redacted public versions. The NRC’s files on the 2004-2005 LES proceeding should contain the un-redacted versions.
Third, in the course of the LES licensing, both the NRC staff and the company’s experts declared a report to be scientifically sound even though it contained a result that would allow the disposal of more U-238 than the weight of the Earth per gram of Utah soil. There were also other problem results. The report in question is
D. Baird, M.K. Bollenbacher, E.S. Murphy, R. Shuman, and P.B. Klein, Evaluation of the Potential Public Health Impacts Associated with Radioactive Waste Disposal at a Site Near Clive, Utah, Rogers and Associates Engineering Corporation, June 1990 (RAE-9004/2-1).
Please see the uranium-238, thorium-232, plutonium-239, and plutonium-242 results on p. 5-13. The allowable concentrations for these radionuclides were reported at physically impossible levels – all more than 5.0E37 picocuries per gram of soil, implying masses many orders of magnitude larger than a gram. I also wrote a report that was submitted to Utah’s DRC for an IEER client, HEALUtah, that included this point. It can be found at
The NRC should insist on scientific integrity and quality assurance in its own work and that of the agreement states, especially in documents having to do with licensing. That has not happened in this case despite the truly fantastic nature of the errors and the fact that the issue has been raised in several NRC forums, including formal oral testimony, and with the State of Utah, over a period of more than seven years. There has been no substantive response either from the NRC or the Utah Division of Radiation Control – at least none has so far been communicated to me.
Please let me know if I can provide you or your staff on more information, documents, or explanations of any of these matters.
Published on November 14, 2012 by IEER Administrator in
The following comments were delivered verbally to the Commission by Christina Mills on Thursday October 25, 2012.
Madame Chair and Commissioners,
Good morning. My name is Christina Mills and I am here today on behalf of myself as a customer of Xcel Energy and also as a staff member of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, or I-E-E-R for short. IEER is a non-profit organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland and focuses on providing scientific and technical analysis of energy issues. We have had an office in Minnesota since 2000 and are active on many different state-level energy matters.
I support the comments of the environmental intervenors overall and specifically the recommendation for Xcel Energy to produce a baseload diversification study for replacing the coal-fired Sherco Units 1 and 2 and I support the general recommendation for increasing the solar power generation in Xcel’s service territory. Minnesota has no in-state fossil fuel resources; it does have abundant wind and solar potential. Xcel should give much more emphasis than it has to these local sources.
Recently, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory published their “Renewable Electricity Futures” study, which found 80% renewable energy generation, in combination with a more flexible electric system, feasible for the entire U.S. It means that facilities which cannot be flexible with wind and solar power, notably nuclear and coal plants, will be increasingly irrelevant, and even a hindrance to a future with large amounts of renewables. Phasing out these large, aging, and inflexible plants will be a win-win for Xcel and Minnesota, given the statutory goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy standard requirements.
In March 2012, IEER published a similar report “Renewable Minnesota”, co-authored by myself, IEER’s President, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, and Dr. M.V. Ramana, a scholar at Princeton University. This report looked at whether Minnesota could have a 100% renewable energy system and is available on the IEER website. We used actual hourly demand data from Xcel Energy for 2007 – all 8760 hours – and matched that with in-state potential for wind and solar generation, while maintaining the industry-standard reliability criterion of 12% capacity above load for all hours of the year. While showing that the technology is commercially available and there is sufficient wind and sun in Minnesota to make the transition to 100% renewable energy over three or four decades it also highlights the role of energy efficiency and demand side management in keeping the costs of such a system reasonable – in fact we found this transition could be done at a cost to ratepayers of only 1-2 cents more per kWh than current rates. And that’s not counting the collateral benefits of more in-state resources and reduced costs from ill-health associated with air pollution.
We must start now to cost-effectively transform our electricity system and get rid of the obsolete mode of thinking that inflexible baseload plants are necessary to operate the electricity system. The Commission and Xcel, in this and future IRPs, should proactively set a course for a future in which the electrical grid in Minnesota will be as different in 2040 from that of today, just as the iPhone and Internet are from the phone and computer systems of 1980.