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

Related Posts:
So Much Radioactive Waste, So Little Time

  • Ray

    Having worked around radiation a fair portion of my adult life I think the levels set by the EPA are more that adequate. To those who care to do the research try starting with what constitutes a leathal dose and work backwards stopping to look at what a day at the beach covers. Do your homework and use reliable sources, for those who relie on others don’t! “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity” is good advice, I wish I had thought of the phrase; another is ” follow the money” Who stands to make money by public fear.

  • Michael Stuart

    Average annual background radiation for people living in the US is about 300 millrem. It’s about twice that in Denver from the sun due to the altitude. And if you worked in Grand Central Station in New York you’d recieve more than the federal government allows a member of the public to receive from a nuclear power station because of all the granite.

    All this quibbling over 15 mrem per year? And anti-nukes would rather leave used nuclear fuel spread out, unprotected, all over the country than to move it to a centralized deep geologic repository?

  • http://www.beyondnuclear.org Kevin Kamps

    Ray, “follow the money — Who stands to make money by public fear.”? I assume you’ve been paid for your work “around radiation”? It’s a bit of a stretch to compare a handful of environmental organizations which operate with budgets of a few hundred thousand dollars per year, if that, versus 104 operating nuclear power plants across the U.S., each of which averages a million dollars per day in net profits. Follow the money indeed, and you’ll soon see how a project as “stupid” as the Yucca Mountain dump could still be alive 30 years and $11 billion later. And that figure doesn’t include the many millions the nuclear power industry has poured into lobbying and campaign contributions to get what it desires, like a Yucca dump, future generations be damned (to six to seven fold higher permissible radiation doses than we are, to be exact).

    Michael, average annual background radiation in the U.S. (including both natural and artificial, man made radiation) is actually 360 millirem per year, according to the EPA. But you forgot to mention that that level of exposure kills 18,000 Americans per year from fatal cancer, again according to EPA. And you mischaracterize the anti-nuclear movement and concerned citizens who live next to mounting high-level radioactive wastes. We want the reactors shut down, and replaced with energy efficiency and renewables like wind, so that no more forever deadly high-level radioactive waste gets generated. And for the 60,000 tons that already exists, it must be safeguarded and secured on-site, because that’s where it will remain for decades to come, even if Yucca opens. DOE says it can open Yucca in 2020, but that moving waste to Yucca would take 25 more years.

  • Chris


    You forgot to mention that the major source of radiation in the average persons life is from the sun. Fatal cancer is also a result of the human body not being able to regulate itself.

    Do you really believe that wind energy is “clean”? Everything has an environmental impact. If the entire world’s energy source came from wind energy, perhaps we would slow the earth’s rotation or change weather patterns accross the world.

  • http://www.huligar.com/ Granite

    Very interesting post you wrote. Glad I have stumbled upon it. Cheers!

  • http://www.cecarf.org eberm

    Nice summary of Yucca. This is my first visit to the blog and it is very well done, readable, interesting. Thanks.

  • http://google.com/403 Sandra R

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • http://megan-fox-fhm-pics.blogspot.com/ megan fox

    Sign: umsun Hello!!! rcuwwymhyw and 3269ssgfhphzye and 9085Thanks. We look forward to hearing from you again and for your opinions on the world of work.

  • raymond

    who cares about nevadans 1 million years from now there wont be a nevada after the fourth reich takes over the world and the apocolypse hits


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