- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005


The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new radiation exposure limits for a planned nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a revision aimed at protecting the public for as long as 1 million years, agency officials said yesterday.

The proposed standard is intended to satisfy a court decision a year ago that said the EPA’s initial requirements were inadequate. The ruling threatened to cripple the project at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, unless the EPA developed new rules.

Government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, discussed the proposal because the agency was announcing the decision later yesterday.

Yucca Mountain is planned as a national repository for spent commercial reactor fuel and high-level defense waste. The opening date has been delayed repeatedly and is now expected in 2012 or later.

The EPA proposal, which would become final after a public comment period, will establish a two-tier standard that limits the level of radiation exposure to the public from the waste dump — one for a period of up to 10,000 years and another for well beyond that to as long as 1 million years, the officials told the Associated Press.

A federal appeals court in July 2004 said the EPA had violated the direction from Congress when it had limited its exposure standards to 10,000 years. A National Academy of Sciences report said such a standard should target the periods of greatest radiation levels from the waste, a period well beyond 10,000 years.

Under the revised standard, a person near the site must be exposed to no more than an additional 15 millirems of radiation over a year up until 10,000 years as a result of radiation leaking from the buried waste through groundwater or other sources, EPA officials said.

The standard requires that the maximum radiation from the dump after 10,000 years be at a level that assures people living near the site will not receive total radiation amounts exceeding the national average from natural background sources.

Average background radiation nationwide is about 350 millirems a year.

The Yucca Mountain waste site is being designed to accept highly radioactive used reactor fuel from commercial nuclear power plants across the country as well as some defense waste. The government had hoped to open the underground site by 2010, but that timetable has slipped to at least 2012.

President Bush gave the project the go-ahead in 2002, despite strong opposition from Nevada officials. The project has been plagued by a series of problems since then, from budget shortfalls to the court demand to rework the radiation standards.

Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the Energy Department, said the administration is firmly committed to pushing ahead with the Yucca project.

“This is a standard that we can certainly meet,” Mr. Stevens said when told of the EPA’s two-tier approach.

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