EPA Sets Radiation Limit for Nevadans Living 1 Million Years From Now

By Eliza Strickland | October 1, 2008 9:10 am

Yucca Mountain tunnelThe controversial plan to store nuclear waste underground in a facility in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain reached another milestone today, as the Environmental Protection Agency issued limits for how much radiation people in the surrounding area could be exposed to–all the way from when the facility is scheduled to open, in 2020, until 1 million years in the future.

The EPA announced yesterday that to protect the hypothetical people living in Nevada 1 million years from now, the Yucca Mountain facility must be designed to ensure that people living near it then are exposed to no more than 100 millirems of radiation annually — equivalent to about a half-dozen X-rays. And over the next 10,000 years, radiation exposure to the waste dump’s neighbors may be no more than 15 millirems a year, which is about what people get from an ordinary X-ray [AP].

The project has run into opposition every step of the way, and the new radiation guidelines were no different; Senator Harry Reid of Nevada immediately said that the radiation standard would put people at risk. “In other words, the (EPA) agency decided just how much radiation you and I can live with,” Reid said. “Let me be clear, there is no way this weak standard will breathe life into the Bush-McCain plan to dump nuclear waste in Nevada. Instead, it will breathe life into more litigation against this terrible project” [Deseret News]. Reid has consistently argued that storing nuclear waste at the power plants where it’s produced is a safer and cheaper option.

Local activists were also up at arms about the guidelines. Says Kevin Kamps of the advocacy group Beyond Nuclear: “EPA’s final Yucca radiation release regulations are unacceptable,” Kamps said. “All human generations are of equal importance and moral worth. Generations living 10,000 years from now are as important as current generations, yet EPA would allow them to suffer six to seven times more harmful, cancer-causing radioactivity doses than allowed for current generations” [Las Vegas Sun]. The Department of Energy still has some major hurdles to clear before it can start shipping waste to Yucca Mountain; the department must beat back several lawsuits, and the facility must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Get the full story of how the government decided that storing radioactive waste in the mountain was an acceptable risk in the DISCOVER article “Welcome to Yucca Mountain.”

Image: U.S. Department of Energy

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So Much Radioactive Waste, So Little Time

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