The Environmental Protection Agency’s final hearing on its proposed rule governing how much radiation could be released from Yucca Mountain drew a series of critics, mostly environmentalists who said the standard was too weak to protect future generations.
Just two of 15 people who made public statements at the agency’s headquarters on Tuesday expressed support of the EPA draft rule. One represented a group that wants nuclear waste moved away from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the other was an official with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which supports swift completion of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada.
The dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas is proposed to hold 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive waste.
Most speakers said the EPA’s two-tiered rule — which proposes one standard for radiation releases from the dump for 10,000 years and a much weaker one after that — isn’t protective enough.
“It is a double standard, it is extremely dangerous and it is immoral,” said Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, in comments echoed during the two-hour hearing by speakers from the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups.
“EPA’s proposed standards do not prevent serious harm, they cause serious harm,” Gibbs said.
The EPA in August proposed limiting exposure near the planned dump to 15 millirems a year for 10,000 years, then increasing the allowable level to 350 millirems a year for up to 1 million years.
That higher level is more than three times what is allowed from nuclear facilities today by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A standard chest X-ray is about 10 millirems.
The EPA issued the draft rule after a federal court said an earlier standard the agency proposed was inadequate because it didn’t establish exposure limits beyond 10,000 years.
Tuesday’s hearing was the final of five public hearings — and the only one outside of Nevada — on the draft rule before EPA closes its public comment period Nov. 21. A final rule will be issued some time after that.
Elizabeth Cotsworth, director of the EPA Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, defended the rule after listening to critics Tuesday.
“We believe the proposed standards are protective,” she told reporters. “We’ll fully consider all of the comments, analyze them, before making the final decisions.”
Steven R. Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which promotes nuclear power and wants Yucca Mountain to go forward, said it wasn’t a good idea to try to extend the radiation standard beyond 10,000 years.
“Implementation of the disposal program should not be delayed while scientists, engineers and regulators speculate about what might happen 1 million years from now,” he said.
After repeated setbacks — including the court ruling against EPA’s first radiation standard — the dump is now not expected to open before 2012.