EPA sets final radiation exposure rules for Yucca Mountain

According to radiation standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week, exposure over the next 10,000 years to neighbors of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal facility in Nevada will be limited to 15 millirem a year—a little less than that from a single chest X-ray.

The Department of Energy’s proposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste disposal facility is scheduled to open in 2020 if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approves its recently submitted license application.
According to the EPA, human exposure to radiation varies from natural sources, such as radon and ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and other sources, such as medical X-rays. The average annual radiation exposure from both naturally occurring and manmade sources for a person living in the U.S. has been estimated to be 360 millirem per year.
The new rules for the depository are more stringent than the EPA’s and the NRC’s regular radiation exposure limits. These were set per a 2004 court directive and take into account recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and the international radioactive waste community, the EPA said.
In July 2004, the court had said the agency’s 10,000-year standard was insufficient and ordered it to look forward a million years. The extended duration was necessary because some isotopes in buried waste would remain dangerous for that long, it said.
Along with retaining a dose limit of 15 millirem per year for the first 10,000 years after disposal, the EPA established a dose limit of 100 millirem annual exposure per year between 10,000 years and 1 million years.
The EPA also said last week it would require the DOE to consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, and corrosion of the waste packages containing the waste during the 1 million-year period.
The Associated Press reported that the Energy Department is confident that its license application will “stand up to challenges anywhere,” despite calls for it to withdraw its NRC license application and resubmit it after the radiation exposure requirements were taken into account.

Sources: EPA, AP

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