Date: Fri, 23 May 1997 17:42:01 -0700 (PDT)
From: Michael Mariotte



NRC Sells out local communities and future generations --

NRC FINAL RULE Radiological Criteria for Decommissioning: outer limit on site contamination results in fatal cancer rate of 1 in 57 exposed, after NRC license termination; Mandates a 1 in 1144 fatal cancer rate for ANY site; This level of radioactive pollution is "Below Regulatory Concern."

The NRC final rule is expected in the Federal Register any day.

ACTIONS: LOCAL PRESS WORK (National Press release attached)


For more information: 

Nuclear Information and Resource Service,
1424 16th St. NW Suite 404 Washington, DC 20036   (202)328-0002 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) FINAL Rulemaking in a process that began as ERORR (Enhanced Rulemaking on Residual Radioactivity-- and before that BRC) has a three part deal -- 25 millirems/year for unrestricted, and 100 or 500 millirem/year for "restricted" license termination at nuclear sites. This new rule currently applies to civilian sites under NRC or state agreement agencies, (thousands of sites in the US) and may be applied to DOE sites, if prospective external regulation of DOE by NRC is approved. NRC's rule provides no special protection for groundwater, and indeed assumes that if public water supplies are available, that water contamination does not have to be factored as an exposure pathway, in some cases creating permanent sacrifice of water resources.

To qualify a site for unrestricted use, licensees must "clean" contamination of the site to a level "As Low as Reasonably Achievable" (ALARA) below a 25 mrem/yr dose to the average member of the "critical group." The 25 mrem/yr dose is in addition to the NRC's estimated background dose of 300 mrem/yr which, by itself, results (according to NRC) in a little more than one fatal cancer per hundred people. Unrestricted use includes farming, homes, daycare centers and other uses--i.e. anything. Both dose and critical group are based on many assumptions made by NRC that may not represent actual radiation exposure that will result from activities on any given site. Again, using NRC calculations, the 25 mrem/yr incremental dose above background, over a lifetime will result in 1 fatal cancer for every 1144 people exposed. Not only are there thousands of sites, but much of the radiation will persist for decades, centuries, millennia. It is not possible to calculate the cumulative death toll.

A dose of 25 mrem/yr for unrestricted sites is clearly inadequate to protect public health and safety even by EPA standards. EPA drafted a clean-up rule that would have limited the site dose to 15 mrem/year and would have enforced the Safe Drinking Water Act limit of 4 mrem/yr on ground water. EPA has tabled the rule for now after DOE announced it did not want this rule. EPA could still issue their rule, and has made a rare display of standing tough, by suggesting to NRC that EPA would declare sites released under the NRC rule to be Superfund sites, requiring a more stringent clean-up.

NRC proposes even laxer standards for "restricted" sites. Although "restricted" sites will have higher contamination levels, NRC claims these sites can still be used for certain activities, as long as licensees "guarantee" no one at these sites receives more than a 25mrem/yr dose (yeah, right). Exemptions may be granted by NRC, on licensee request based on factors such as prohibitive cleanup costs, and arguments that further clean-up may cause greater harm than the residual dose. The rule allows contamination levels that will cause doses of 100mrem/year and as high as a 500mrem/yr to those who use the site, if restrictions fail. The NRC claims exceptions will only be made in "unusual circumstances," such as perceived loss of institutional control of the contaminated site, sites that have contaminated soil, or SDMP sites. Since many site operations have resulted in contaminated soil, and SDMP (Site Decommissioning Management Plan) is composed of the current major nuclear license terminations, NRC's definition of "unusual circumstances" verges on criminal.

Licensee proof of compliance with the regulations required by the rule are not stringent and NRC has left many loopholes by using non-specific language and definitions. It appears that almost any site contaminated with radionuclides could apply for cleanup standards at the 500mrem/yr level and be considered as long as it was "restricted" use. "Restricted" use could mean simply fencing in the area or planting obstructing bushes. This is clearly unacceptable since 500mrem/yr over "background" translates into a citizen cancer fatality of approximately 1 in every 57 people exposed to this radiation dose for a lifetime. Those are NRC numbers for the rate of cancer. Independent analysts have made findings that the rate could in fact be 10 times higher. Further, other health impacts that NRC's rule ignores altogether include non-fatal cancer, infertility, genetic and birth defects and lowered immunity. The rule does not account for Hot Spots, which could allow certain individuals to get a double dose of radiation (or more), while others receive none. Since the projected radiation doses are averaged, this effectively assumes the dose is spread evenly among all individuals in the critical group, while in reality, those receiving the largest doses (and the higher risk), are effectively ignored and unprotected.

This devastating departure from the NRC's mandate to protect the public health and safety is one more piece in a long history of placing industry economic interests ahead of citizen health and citizen's economic interests, not to mention all the other species that are affected, and in affect us indirectly. This process of deregulation of radiation has been ongoing at NRC, but in 1986 the agency formalized it as a policy called "Below Regulatory Concern" or BRC. Citizens across the country did a phenomenal organizing effort, including passage of over a dozen state laws prohibiting deregualtion and in 1992, Congress directed NRC to revoke the BRC Policy.

In 1993, in the wake of this industry defeat, NRC put together the ERORR (Enhanced Rulemaking on Residual Radioactivity) process and citizens from across the country attended "stakeholder" meetings. Again and again we told NRC that in order to release the polluter from liability, it is their job to require that the site be returned to naturally occurring levels of background radiation. Indeed, the NRC draft rule of August 22, 1994 was more stringent than this final rule. The proposed rule did not mention a 500 mrem/year dose cap, only a 100 mrem/yr cap, and the level of 15 mrem/yr was given for unrestricted sites. The final rule also drops mandatory Site Specific Advisory Boards (SSABs). There are other forms of public in-put in decommissioning, but the implication is clear: NRC does not wish to create any more opportunities for public participation.

WE NEED TO TAKE ACTION NOW! Please do any, preferably all, of the following:

1) WRITE CAROL BROWNER at EPA. Tell her you are outraged at NRC's final rule, and urge EPA to take action to protect public health and the environment.

Honorable Carol  M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, DC 20460

Letters -- handwritten or on group letter head are the best. Call on EPA to follow through on setting a more stringent standard, to protect the groundwater pathway and uphold the Safe Drinking Water Act (currently our most stringent radiation standard on the books).Call for EPA to declare that NRC sites released under this rule are Superfund. Also tell EPA: NO RECYCLING, no BRC. We won't settle for this....(EPA is drafting a radioactive waste recycling rule).

2) GET THE WORD OUT: This is a terrible defeat and it is also an opportunity to talk turkey about the reality of radiation in your area.

Write your own press release highlighting how this final rule would affect radioactively contaminated sites in your area. You can use our press release but it's good to bring this issue to a local level. You might consider working with other sites to produce one comprehensive release for your state or region. This is the sort of thing that science writers should cover. Also consider getting it to your university and school papers. Everyone needs to hear it.

3) CERCLA, the law that covers Superfund is up for reauthorization. The corporate interests are lobbying hard to have polluter liability dropped. NIRS does not have much information on this,. but a call to your Rep -- even without a lot of details -- stating that Superfund liability must remain with the polluters and asking them about the CERCLA reauthorization is certainly worth the dime.

(202)234-3121 Capital Switchboard.

This is a big defeat. We must use it to elevate radiation and health issues. We cannot back down, more is on the way: the final rule states NRC is considering regulatory action on recycling contaminated material in conjunction with EPA. By the time we can see the cancers and genetic damage that chronic low doses of radiation may be causing, it will be too late to reverse the situation. Prevention is the only cure.

Use this Press Release if it is helpful -- it went to National Press 5/21/97: