No one deserves cancer, especially not children!
Take Action:Send comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blasting its proposal to allow a 1 in 36 cancer rate for persons exposed to the radioactive wastes that would leak from Yucca Mountain, Nevada if they are ever buried there. Forward this alert to your friends and family to do the same. Sample comments, instructions on how/where to submit comments, background information, and talking points follow below.
Sample Comments: (feel free to copy and submit verbatim, or to use to write you own comments; also see talking points below for additional ideas to add)
Re: EPA’s proposal for revised radiation release regulations for the proposed national high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Docket Identification Number OAR-2005-0083)
EPA’s proposed double standard must be withdrawn. The proposal would protect people for the first 10,000 years to currently applied standards of protection, but would then doom future generations after that time to a 1 in 36 cancer rate (or even worse, up to a 100% cancer rate, due to EPA mathematical manipulation), and a 1 in 72 fatal cancer rate (or even worse). Such proposed cancer rates and fatal cancer rates are horrifying, and EPA must withdraw such an unacceptable proposal. This is a complete violation of principles of inter-generational equity, as well as public health and environmental protection.
EPA’s proposal to allow 350 millirem per year radiation doses to people living downstream from the leaking dump — the equivalent of 58 full chest x-rays per year — would not only cause cancer, but also birth defects, genetic damage, and other maladies, and at alarming rates, and must be withdrawn. Current standards of 15 millirem per year from all pathways, and 4 millirem per year from drinking water, must be applied for the full regulatory period at Yucca Mountain, extending to the period of peak radiation doses (hundreds of thousands of years into the future) and beyond.
These proposed regulations allowing 350 millirem per year radiation doses are completely unacceptable and must not be allowed to set a precedent to be applied at other radioactively contaminated sites across the country because they represent a large-scale weakening of environmental and public health protection standards, the worst such standards, by far, in the Western world, in violation of international norms. This inter-generational immorality must also not be applied to other EPA jurisdictions, such as non-radioactive, toxic and hazardous chemical contaminated sites.
City, State, Zip
How/Where to Submit Comments:
Submit comments by EPA’s November 21st deadline in any of the following ways. Be sure to include the Docket Identification Number OAR-2005-0083:
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, Attention Docket No. OAR-2005-0083. Be sure to include your name, organizational affiliation if any, snail mail address, email address, or other contact info. with your comments.
Via EPA’s EDOCKET website. Go to http://www.epa.gov/edocket. Then click on “Quick Search” in the left hand column. In the search window, type in the docket identification number OAR-2005-0083. The search could take 30 seconds. This will bring you to the “Docket Search Results” page. At that point, click on OAR-2005-0083. At the resulting page, you can submit a comment by clicking on the “Submit Comment” button and following the subsequent instructions.
Snail mail, via: EPA Docket Center, Air and Radiation Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA West, Mail Code 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460. Attn. Docket ID No. OAR-2005-0083.
Fax: fax comments to 202.566.1741, Attn. Docket No. OAR-2005-0083.
First the good news. On July 9, 2004, the State of Nevada and a coalition of environmental organizations, including NIRS, won a major legal victory. The federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that EPA must re-write portions of its 2001 Yucca radiation release regulations, because EPA’s cut off of regulations at 10,000 years was not “based upon and consistent with” recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, as required by federal law. NAS had explicitly rejected a 10,000 year cut off as arbitrary, and recommended “[t]hat compliance with the standard be measured at the time of peak risk, whenever it occurs,” and that “peak risks might occur tens to hundreds of thousands of years or even farther into the future.” The court ruling was a major blow to the schedule and prospects of the dangerous proposal to bury 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste on geologicially unsuitable, sacred Western Shoshone Indian land at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Now the bad news. On August 22, 2005 EPA published its proposed revisions to the Yucca radiation release regulations — and they are HORRENDOUS. Dr. Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research — who served on EPA’s advisory panel regarding high-level radioactive waste repository regulations in the 1980s — has said of the recent Yucca regulatory revisions: “I consider this the worst single action that the EPA has taken on radiation issues ever since I began analyzing them almost 25 years ago.”
Nevada grassroots groups such as Citizen Alert, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, Sierra Club, Public Interest Research Group, and National Environmental Trust kicked off the resistance to this outlandish EPA proposal on September 30th, marking the 8th annual “Nevada is Not a Wasteland!” Day. Members of these groups and other concerned citizens spoke out against EPA’s proposal at official hearings in Amargosa Valley near Yucca as well as in Las Vegas this week. Next week, national environmental groups will hold a press conference and speak out at the EPA hearing in Washington, D.C. Both the State of Nevada and a coalition of environmental groups are making preparations to challenge the EPA in court once again. You can help bolster this groundswell of outraged resistance by submitting comments to EPA and forwarding this alert.
∙ Disregarding all applicable, long-establisihed laws, regulations, and inter-generational morality, the EPA has proposed — as Dr. Makhijani of IEER dubs it — a “double-standard standard.” EPA’s proposal would, for the first 10,000 years post-burial of the wastes, retain its original Yucca regulations permitting a lifetime cancer rate of 1 in 835 people exposed to Yucca’s leaking radioactivity (in other words, a 15 millirem per year permitted radiation dose). But after 10,000 years, EPA now proposes allowing a 1 in 36 lifetime cancer rate (this figure calculated using the recent findings presented in the National Academy of Sciences Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation report — NAS BEIR VII) for persons downstream (a 23-fold increase in “allowable” radiation to 350 mrem/yr, equivalent to 58 chest x-rays per year!). About half of those cancers would be fatal.
∙ To make matters worse, EPA’s 350 mrem/yr figure is not a maximum permitted dose to the public, but rather an average dose, so large numbers of people would, under the rule, get doses far higher, with proportionately higher risks. EPA even changed the kind of average from the mean (add all the individual doses and divide by the number of doses, thus including very high doses in the average) dose in the original rule to a median dose (the middle dose value, with an equal number of dose values above and below it — meaning that very high doses are simply disregarded). In the U.S. Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain Total System Performance Assessment for Site Recommendation, at the time of peak dose (after the waste packages corrode and fail), the mean dose of the many computer simulations is about 600 mrem/yr whereas the median dose is about 200 mrem/yr. So Yucca wouldn’t meet a standard that required the mean to be less than 350 mrem/yr, but would if the median were used, instead of the mean. DOE calculations reveal the median results in doses of about 1,000 mrem/year,enough to produce cancer in 1 of every 10 people exposed. Under EPA’s proposed rule, half of the radiation scenarios would result in doses higher than that — indeed, there is no upper limit for the half of the exposures that would be above the median. Incredibly, EPA proposes no upper limit to dose at all. So dozens of the 300 or so computer-simulated radiation exposure scenarios that DOE would run would result in doses above the 350 mrem/yr or 1,000 mrem/yr doses. In other words,under the proposed EPA standards, significant numbers of people could be exposed to radiation doses that would produce a statistical 100% chance of inducing cancer in the exposed persons.
∙ EPA’s proposal would set a very dangerous precedent that could be applied across the U.S., not just at Yucca Mountain. EPA has for decades declared any radiation dose above 15 to 25 mrem/yr to be “non-protective of public health.” Its general policy has been to regulate exposures to limit cancer rates to1 in 10,000 persons exposed, or even to 1 in 1 million persons exposed. For example, EPA limits radioactivity in drinking water to 4 mrem/yr, air emissions at 10 mrem/yr, and Superfund cleanups to the equivalent of roughly 0.03 to 3 mrem/yr. EPA has gone on record, again and again, that radiation doses of 100 mrem/yr produce unacceptable levels of risk. But EPA’s 350 mrem/yr proposed standard for Yucca would be a 23-fold increase in “allowable” radiation over the 15 mrem/yr standard, and would more than triple the amount of radiation exposure EPA has repeatedly stated produces unacceptable levels of risk. If EPA gets away with this, it could set a precedent to rollback cleanup efforts at other radioactively contaminated sites across the country, including other radioactive waste dumps, nuclear power plant sites, and nuclear fuel chain facilities. There is the added danger that EPA could attempt to apply such inter-generational double standards to other polluted sites suffering non-radioactive, toxic and hazardous material contamination, allowing for much higher cancer rates (and other disease rates) to future generations.
∙ EPA’s proposal is a shoehorn designed to weaken the standards so that the geologically unsuitable site can still be licensed, rather than requiring the site to meet public health and environmental protection standards. If the Yucca Mountain site cannot meet public health and environmental protection standards, as it clearly cannot, then the dump should never be opened. DOE has publicly predicted doses of 200 to 300 mrem/year at 200,000 to 300,000 years after burial of the waste, so now EPA proposes weakening the standards just enough so that Yucca could still be licensed. EPA’s proposal represents raw politics, is antithetical to science-based public health and environmental protection, and would doom residents near Yucca to cancer and death at horribly high rates. All this, just so the nuclear establishment can maintain the illusion of a solution for the high-level radioactive waste dilemma, so that building new reactors and keeping the old ones running can be “justified.”
∙ EPA’s proposed 350 mrem/yr dose would not just occur for a brief time and then decrease to far lower levels. Under EPA’s proposed rule, these large doses would be permitted to occur year after year, generation after generation, forevermore into the future (well, out to a million years, after which time regulations would end). It is hard to conceive of a proposed environmental regulation or action that raises such serious questions of inter-generational immorality. EPA is in essence proposing to permit an action that will kill significant numbers of people in an ongoing fashion for hundreds of thousands of years on end, people who had no say in the decision nor received any supposed benefit from it, or from the nuclear reactors that generated the high-level radioactive wastes in the first place. Those future generations would bear only the cost, a large human cost. EPA explicitly admits to such deadly double standards, advocating a “Strong Principle of Justice” for the first 5 or 6 generations (roughly 150 years), a “Weak Principle of Justice” for a further 5 or 6 generations after that, and then a “Minimal Principle of Justice” beyond that. EPA’s proposal certainly would represent a horrible injustice for future generations. It is quite ironic, for the U.S. Dept. of Energy has explained its rush to open the Yucca dump as a matter of inter-generational responsibility, in that current generations created the high-level radioactive waste and thus should solve the problem so that future generations need not worry about it. Future generations would have much to worry about if EPA’s proposal stands.
∙ EPA’s use of Colorado’s higher level of “background radiation” in an attempt to justify allowing added doses of 350 mrem/yr to persons living downstream from Yucca’s leaking radioactive wastes is twisted and unacceptable. EPA cites the national average for background radiation as 350 mrem/yr. But even this is wrong and misleading. About two-thirds of that figure is due to radon exposures within houses and buildings. Only natural radiation, such as from cosmic rays and other natural sources that people are exposed to outdoors, which is difficult to avoid or control, should be considered “natural background.” EPA’s proposed 350 mrem/yr dose from Yucca’s leaking radioactive wastes would be in addition to the background radiation (including indoor radon) that people would already be exposed to. It should be noted that residents near Yucca are also exposed to additional radioactive contamination from the nearby Nevada Test Site’s nuclear weapons explosions and “low” level radioactive waste shipments and dumping. In NAS’s recent BEIR VII study, it reported that about 1 in 100 Americans will contract cancer just from the non-radon component of background radiation. A full three percent of the American public can already be expected to contract cancer from their exposure to outdoor natural radiation plus indoor radon, so that “background” 350 mrem/yr is far from safe. Thus, EPA is proposing that a full 6% of the public living downstream from Yucca be allowed to contract cancer, half of that from “background” (including radon), and half from the leaking dump’s radioactive wastes. EPA has deceptively tried to blur the distinction between “background radiation” and Yucca’s leaking wastes, both of which are harmful to human beings.
∙ Another casualty of EPA’s proposed rule is the Safe Drinking Water Act standard limiting radiation in drinking water to 4 mrem/yr, which EPA would only enforce for the first 10,000 years, but would then replace with the 350 mrem/yr all pathway exposure limit. Water is a precious resource, especially in arid areas such as Nevada and southeast California — Yucca’s watershed — which will require more, not less, protection as time goes on. Yucca’s radioactive wastes will leak into the underlying drinking water aquifer, which will become the primary pathway for harmful doses to people downstream. The Safe Drinking Water Act standard should be applied to protect Yucca’s aquifer and the people downstream for as long as the high-level radioactive wastes remain hazardous, hundreds of thousands of years into the future.
∙ Incredibly, EPA has claimed that “the Agency does not have reason to believe the environmental health risks or safety risks addressed by this action present a disproportionate risk to children.” EPA also states “This proposed rule does not have tribal implications…[and] does not have substantial direct effects on one or more Indian tribes, [or] on the relationship between the Federal Government and Indian tribes…” . This is preposterous. Yucca Mountain is sacred and still used as a ceremonial site by the Western Shoshone Indians, who retain rights to the land under the Treaty of Ruby Valley signed by the US government in 1863. The Western Shoshone traditional lifestyle, lived at and near Yucca since time immemorial, may again return to that area someday. And it’s been known for decades that children are much more vulnerable than adults to radiation’s harmful impacts. Tell EPA that indigenous peoples and children are not expendable!
∙ EPA’s proposed standards would be, by far, the worst in the Western world. The French repository program, for instance, would limit maximum doses, estimated to occur hundreds of thousands of years in the future, to 25 mrem/yr. This proposed EPA limit beyond 10,000 years would allow more than ten times higher radiation doses than the French limit. The Canadian program limits doses to about 10 mrem/yr for 10,000 years but does not allow a sudden increase after that. The EPA proposal would allow a sudden jump from 15 mrem/yr to 350 mrem/yr after 10,000 years, a 23-fold increase!
∙ The Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste repository would be by far the largest atomic waste dump, containing radioactively hottest waste, in the entire country. For that reason alone, the strictest of standards should be applied.
∙ Given all that DOE has done wrong over the decades (the nightmarish radioactive contamination of Hanford, Washington; Savannah River Site, South Carolina; Paducah, Kentucky; and countless other debacles come to mind), that’s all the more reason that EPA should be the strong protector of public health and the environment, and should not be drastically weakening its regulations so that DOE’s poor Yucca Mountain dump application stands a better chance of receiving approval from NRC!
For updates and more background information, please go to www.nirs.org, or contact:
Nuclear Waste Specialist
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
301-270-6477 ext. 14
Thank you to Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Citizen Alert of Nevada, Committee to Bridge the Gap, Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, and Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force for their contributions to this action alert.