NOTE to our "West Valley Decommissioning" page
EPA EXPOSURE STANDARDS ARE MORE STRINGENT THAN NRC'S LICENSE TERMINATION RULE. DO THE EPA'S STANDARDS APPLY TO WEST VALLEY?
On Aug. 22, 1997, EPA issued Guidance that determined that the NRC License Termination Rule (which NRC now proposes to apply to West Valley) is not adequately protective of human health and the environment under the federal government's Superfund program (CERCLA).* In other words, if the site were listed as a Superfund site (and West Valley is not), EPA's more stringent cleanup standard would apply. 
However, according to EPA the CERCLA standard is accepted in all other regulatory contexts except decontamination of NRC-licensed sites. NRC's dose limits "present risks that are higher than levels EPA has found to be protective for carcinogens in general and for radiation, in particular, in other contexts." [at Attachment B, p. 6] EPA stated, "NRC has provided, and EPA is aware of, no technical, policy, or legal rationale for treating radiation risks differently from other risks addressed under CERCLA and for allowing radiation risks so far beyond the bounds of the CERCLA risk range."** [at Attachment B, p. 2].
The CERCLA or Superfund standard for adequate protection from residual contaminants following a cleanup is not hard to understand. Under CERCLA, all remedies are required to attain cleanup levels that "at a minimum. . . assure protection of human health and the environment." [42 USC § 121(d)(1)].** EPA found that "cleanup levels exceeding 15 millirem per year" are "not protective under CERCLA [the federal government's Superfund program] and generally should not be used to establish cleanup levels."[ 5][at p. 3].
In a separate appendix to its August 22, 1997 Guidance, EPA provided a detailed analysis of the assumptions and methods used by NRC in developing its Rule. In the appendix EPA rejected NRC's assumption that background exposure to radioactivity from all man-made sources at a level of 100 mrem per year is acceptable. NRC used this assumption to justify its 25 mrem/yr. standard (a radioactivity dose limit, it should be borne in mind, that can reach 100 mrem/yr. or even 500 mrem/yr. under certain circumstances). [at p. 13].
The discussion in the appendix goes on to note that the EPA's standard for air emissions of radionuclides applies to NRC licensees. This air emission standard allows only 10 mrem/yr. exposure to radioactivity. This is consistent with yet another standard, the "critical organs standards," developed jointly by EPA and NRC. Under the critical organs standards exposures are measured for the whole body, for the thyroid, and for any other critical organ of the body. The three-part standard that resulted is a "25/75/25 mrem/yr." dose limit, "expressed as 25 mrem/yr to the whole body, 75 mrem/yr to the thyroid, and 25 mrem/yr to any critical organ other than the thyroid." Id. at p. 15. For sites cleaned up to this level, the EPA explained, "the residual contamination would correspond to approximately 10 mrem/yr EDE [effective dose equivalent]." [at p. 13].
The NRC's proposal to apply its 25 mrem/yr. Rule to West Valley is therefore not adequately protective. The NRC's dose limits, 25/100/500 mrem/yr. under the LTR, "present risks that are higher than levels EPA has found to be protective for carcinogens in general and for radiation, in particular, in other contexts. EPA has no technical or policy basis to conclude that these levels are protective under CERCLA." [at p. 17].
Get 42 USC § 121(d)(1) [CERCLA] , 300 CFR Appendix B [National Priority List of Superfund sites], Federal Register notices, or other agency documents discussed elsewhere on our site from the Internet by following our Guide to Getting Federal Documents on the Web.