US environmental protection rules are adequate

06 August 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency's 1977 radiation protection standards for nuclear power operations adequately protect public health and do not need to be updated, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has said.

EPA's 40 CFR 190 was promulgated in 1977 to limit radiation releases and doses to the public from nuclear power plants and uranium fuel-cycle facilities. EPA said on 4 February that a thorough review of the standards may be warranted given changes in the industry and in the state of scientific knowledge.

EPA requested public comment on its plan to revise its nuclear power radiation protection standards codified in regulations at 40 CFR part 140. The comment period closed on 3 August. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for the standards.

In a statement yesterday, the NEI said the nuclear power industry's operating procedures protect the public and the environment "far beyond" regulatory requirements. Revising the regulation would place "additional regulatory burdens" on nuclear facilities with little or no benefit to public health and the environment, it said.

The NEI's senior project manager for radiation safety and environmental protection, Jerry Hiatt, has provided industry recommendations on several questions raised by EPA if the agency proceeds with rulemaking.

Rather than change to a risk-based limit that would be hard to define and implement, Hiatt said EPA should continue to express public radiation exposure limits in terms of "effective radiation dose". The use of dose-based limits is supported by expert organizations worldwide, including the International Commission on Radiation Protection, the European Union, the Health Physics Society and the National Council on Radiation Protection, he said.

A single dose limit expressed in terms of effective dose "is a logical solution", Hiatt said. This would automatically incorporate the most current scientific advances in dosimetry and could be developed to be consistent with potential changes to the NRC's regulations, he said.

EPA should no longer use the concept of "collective dose" - as defined in 40 CFR 190.10(b) - to limit the total discharge of any specific radionuclide to the environment, he said. The concept "has been widely dismissed" by the scientific community as a means for assessing radiation risk and adds no value to public and environmental protection, he said. An effective dose limit on exposures to individuals located near nuclear facilities - in 40 CFR 190.10(a) - would continue to "protect the public and the environment against the effects of all released radionuclides from uranium fuel cycle facilities," he said.

The nuclear power industry agrees with EPA that ground and surface waters are valuable resources and that it is far "better to take measures that prevent water contamination than to subsequently have to clean up the contamination," Hiatt said. However, the agency should continue to use "all-pathways" dose standards to protect ground and surface water from contamination, he said. "Pathway-specific" limits for groundwater remain unnecessary, he said.

Hiatt noted that the industry's groundwater protection and underground piping initiatives provide an additional layer of protection to the public health and the environment.
Existing regulations governing used fuel storage up to the time of disposal are sufficiently protective, and there is no need to develop a separate rule, he said.

The current regulations adequately cover all known potential nuclear technologies, including alternative fuel cycles and facilities, and small light water reactors, he said.
If EPA does revise 40 CFR 190, the new rule will provide a clearer understanding of radiation protection science and technology and consider stakeholder concerns and perspectives, the agency has said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News