The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for public comment and information on approaches to updating radiation protection standards for nuclear power operations. The standards have not been updated since they were originally issued in 1977.
The agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Feb. 4 in the Federal Register and related fact sheets on its website. It is considering whether to revise the standards that limit the radiation releases and doses to the public from the normal operations of nuclear power plants and other uranium fuel cycle facilities because the scientific understanding of radiation risks has advanced since 1977, it said. New nuclear technologies and operational practices had also emerged, which the EPA said might need to be included in the revised rule.
In the absence of a long-term nuclear waste disposal policy, meanwhile, spent nuclear fuel is being stored at nuclear plant pools or storage casks, the EPA noted. It said it is considering clarifying the coverage of such storage facilities in the revision.
It is also re-examining whether additional water protection provisions are needed to safeguard the public and environment to address concerns about leaked radioactive elements from nuclear power plants in groundwater as have been reported in recent years.
“Growing concern about greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels could lead to a renewed interest in nuclear power,” the agency said, when asked why the rule’s revision was being prioritized. “The nuclear industry anticipates demand for construction of new nuclear power plants in the next 10 to 30 years.”
The EPA sets limits on the amount of radiation that can be released into the environment, though regulatory responsibility for licensing and oversight of commercial nuclear plants falls to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC implements the EPA’s standards at nuclear facilities in the U.S. Most states also have agencies responsible for regulating the use of radiation and radioactive emissions.
Comments for the ANPR are due by June 4, 2014.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)