The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing that radiation releases from a DOE repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev. be regulated for 1-million years under a two-tiered standard that would limit acceptable doses to 15 millirem (mrem) a year the first 10,000 years and 350 mrem a year after that.
EPA developed the draft standard after a federal court remanded its 10,000-year, 15-mrem regulation last year. The court told EPA to extend the regulatory period to cover the peak radiation dose from a Yucca Mountain repository, as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had recommended, or seek congressional authorization to maintain the status quo.
The EPA standard is central to licensing the facility, which DOE wants to build deep within the mountain, and must be reflected in the NRC's repository licensing regulation. NRC spokeswoman Sue Gagner said the agency planned to soon begin work on its regulation. She declined to say how NRC would handle a 1-million regulatory period.
Jeffrey Holmstead, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation repeatedly said the proposed standard would set stringent radiation limits. A 15-mrem exposure is equivalent to what a person would receive from a chest X-ray, he said. A 350-mrem limit matched natural background near Yucca Mountain, putting the total annual dose from natural background and a repository at 700 mrem, same as the natural background level in Denver, he said.
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No other U.S. regulation is in place now for 1-million years, Holmstead said. "It is an unprecedented scientific challenge to develop proposed standards today that will protect the next 25,000 generations of Americans," he said during a recent press briefing.
However, he added it is not yet known what, if any, additional work DOE might have to do to demonstrate the mountain could safely contain utility spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level waste for 1-million years. However the repository program is not schedule-driven. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman "is committed to driving the Yucca Mountain project based on process and not on schedule."
The proposed standard should have been published in the Federal Register by press time starting the clock for a 60-day public comment period. The draft regulation is posted on the EPA Web site at (http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca).
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