The following are the comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for the public health and environmental radiation protection standards for the high-level waste repository proposed for construction at Yucca Mountain1, henceforth referred to as the “proposed rule”, on behalf of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). Based upon the analysis and comments presented below, it is our conclusion that the proposed rule should be rejected as insufficiently protective of the public health. The following comments contain specific criticisms of the proposed rule issued by the EPA as well as IEER’s recommendations for a more equitable and scientifically justifiable regulatory standard.
Summary of Main Findings:
It is our conclusion that the proposed rule is the worst radiation protection rule that has ever been proposed given that it is the first rule that actually implies a massive increase in the level of cancer risk. We have identified a number of areas in which the proposed rule is seriously deficient, including:
A. Relaxation of radiation protection standards for future generations who will not benefit from nuclear power plants that produced the waste is contrary to basic ethics, cost-benefit analysis principles, and internationally accepted radiation protection guidelines, including for radioactive waste. These widely accepted guidelines include those by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Commission on Radiological Protection and radiation protection authorities in other countries. This has been recognized by scientific bodies, including the National Academy and in the past by the EPA.
B. Indoor radon is a technological artifact and not part of natural background. Excluding the indoor radon component, but retaining all other aspects of the EPA proposed rule, would lower the limit from 350 mrem to approximately 100 mrem per year.
C. The Toxic Substances Control Act recognizes that indoor radon is an artifact of building construction and sets a long-term goal of reducing radon levels indoors to those experienced outdoors. Hence, including the present level of indoor radon in natural background is contrary to the intent of this law.
D. No country has proposed a standard as lax as that proposed by the EPA. No other standard that has been proposed for times beyond 10,000 years would allow such lax long term rules.
E. The proposed peak dose limit would pose a lifetime cancer incidence risk of 1 in 36 for the general population and 1 in 30 for women. EPA has previously stated that even 1 in 250 lifetime risk is unacceptable from a single facility.
F. The use of the median to set a dose limit from a combined distribution is inappropriate. The best estimate of the mean dose (give all uncertainties) would be considerably higher than the median. The 95th percentile dose of about 2 rem per year would create a lifetime fatal cancer risk for women of about 1 in 10 and a cancer incidence risk of about 1 in 5. This would make the proposed standard statistically about like Russian roulette rather than a radiation protection rule at least for some people.
G. The proposed standard is not in conformity with Executive Order 13045 for the protection of children because it fails to account for the disproportionate risk from radiation for exposures early in life.
IEER recommends that the EPA issue a final standard for the Yucca Mountain repository that includes the following elements:
- The annual dose limit for all pathways should be between 10 and 25 millirem and should remain constant in time over the period of geologic stability at the site.
- A separate sub-limit of 4 millirem per year to the most exposed organ from the drinking water pathway should be included over the entire period of geologic stability.
- The radiological impacts on children should be explicitly considered in the Department of Energy’s performance assessments in order to ensure that they are not disproportionately affected by the repository.
- The impacts of future changes in climate should be taken into account explicitly in the DOE’s performance assessments including the consideration of periodic cycling through different climate states on the performance of the isolation system.
- The standard should recognize that the uncertainties in the estimated doses will increase with time and that the uncertainties beyond 10,000 years will become very significant. In this regard, therefore, we propose that the EPA adopt the French approach to waste repository standards2 in which the doses beyond 10,000 years are calculated using scientifically reasonable, but highly conservative choices for the important parameter values in order to increase confidence that the ultimate impacts from the repository will be less than those predicted.