Tell the EPA: Don’t Weaken Radiation Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is asking for comments on whether to update its regulation that allows the commercial nuclear power industry to expose people to radiation.

Tell the EPA that any changes the agency makes to its rules must provide more protection from radiation exposure to the public rather than less, and must be designed to protect the most vulnerable among us: our children. Add your voice here. Comment deadline is August 3, 2014.

Every day, nuclear power reactors, and the many other facilities in the nuclear fuel chain, release invisible radioactivity into rivers, lakes, oceans, soil, ground water and the air. The EPA’s “Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations” (40 CFR 190), established in 1977, set legal radiation levels for releases from nuclear facilities. At the time, the federal government was gung-ho on nuclear power and the EPA predicted there would be at least 300 reactors operating in the U.S. by the mid-1990s. Just four years earlier, President Nixon had predicted 1,000 U.S. reactors by 2000. The EPA’s rules were set to encourage that type of massive reactor construction in the U.S. Fortunately, both the EPA and Nixon were wrong. And some 30 years later, in 2006, the National Academy of Sciences reaffirmed that there is no safe level of radiation exposure (any exposure involves some risk; risk rises with amount of exposure).

One would think from that history that the EPA is proposing to strengthen its standards to be more protective. Although the EPA ‘s proposal is vague, and it is in some ways asking whether it should change its standards at all, strengthening them does not appear to be on EPA’s agenda.

That’s why it’s important to raise our voices now—before the EPA jumps in the wrong direction.

Here’s one more reason to act now: the EPA typically sets “acceptable risk” standards for non-radioactive pollutants at anywhere from a 1 in 10,000 to a 1 in 1,000,000 range—meaning that one person in that larger amount could be expected to contract cancer from the effects of exposure to that “acceptable” amount. But according to the EPA’s own risk estimates, its standards for radiation exposure—25 millirems/year—equal a 1 in 500 “acceptable risk.” And that risk is even higher for women and children.

This is clearly unacceptable. Act now and tell the EPA that we demand more protection from radiation exposure, not less.

Note: NIRS will be preparing more detailed comments and will distribute those for organizational sign-on when they are complete. For those who would like to delve deeper into this issue, you can find the EPA’s “Advanced Notice for Proposed Rulemaking as published in the Federal Register here. And you can find numerous other documents and discussion of the issue here.

Thanks for taking action, thanks for all you do,

Michael Mariotte
Nuclear Information and Resource Service

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