NOTE to our "West Valley Decommissioning" page


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. [5]

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." [5][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."** [5][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). [5][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]." [5][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." [5][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.

References for this page and for "West Valley Alert"

Back to "West Valley Decommissioning" page

CCCC's Home Page
*The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 USC §§ 9601-9675, is known as "Superfund." Superfund was enacted in the wake of the relocation of residents of Love Canal in 1980 to deal with waste disposed on land that could contaminate soil or groundwater. The Superfund law required persons who disposed of hazardous substances in the past to report to the EPA about their disposal activity. Together with information from the states, EPA used this information to develop a list of over 35,000 sites con- taminated by past disposal practices. After a preliminary assessment EPA determined that 21,000 of these sites needed no further federal action (although state action may still be appro- priate). Of the remaining 11,000 or so sites, EPA put over 1,200 on its National Priorities List (NPL). See 300 CFR Appendix B. About 100 sites are added to this list each year. NPL sites have been determined by EPA to require funding from the Superfund reserve to finance their cleanup. However, a number of sites that may be as dangerous or more dangerous than NPL sites remain on a list of "Archived" CERCLA sites because other federal agencies currently take responsibility for their cleanup. West Valley is among these. [7]

**"Risk range" rather than "dose exposure" rates determines health impacts in most contexts. An increased lifetime risk of cancer for 3 persons in 10,000 is equivalent to a 15 mrem/yr. exposure rate. See [5][at p. 3].
Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Inc.
links updated  11/18/2004