On February 4, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANOPR”) requesting comments on its Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations (“Radiation Standards”). The ANOPR seeks input on six main issues to determine how to update the Radiation Standards and what, if any changes should be made.
The Radiation Standards were originally issued in 1977 by the EPA to limit radiation releases from the operation of nuclear power plants and facilities involved in the processing and handling of uranium. However, according to EPA, the Radiation Standards do not incorporate the most up-to-date scientific information, and are ripe for review and possible updates due to the projected growth in nuclear power and scientific and technological advances.
In the ANOPR, EPA requested comment on six main issues. First, EPA sought comment on whether it should define the limits for the Radiation Standards in terms of radiation risk or radiation dose. EPA stated that the nuclear industry currently uses a radiation dose limit, but is interested in comments on how the nuclear industry would be affected by a change to a radiation risk limit. In addition, EPA requested comments on how to implement a risk standard, and what the radiation “risk” should be based on.
Second, EPA requested comment on an updated dose methodology, and how EPA should update the dosimetry – the method used in the Radiation Standards to calculate a dose or impacts of radiation exposure. In the ANOPR, EPA stated that the current dosimetry is outdated. EPA further stated that newer dosimetry approaches provide more consistency and allow for easier comparison of radiation exposure. EPA sought comment on whether to maintain a dose standard, and if so, how EPA should incorporate newer scientific information to update the dosimetry.
Third, EPA requested comment on radionuclide release limits. Specifically, EPA questions whether it should retain the radionuclide release limits, and if so, what should be the basis for these limits. EPA noted that these release limits were developed in the anticipation of nuclear fuel reprocessing located in the U.S. EPA says the anticipated scale of reprocessing plants has never materialized, and now EPA questioned whether these limits are needed.
Fourth, EPA requested comment on the issue of water resource protection. EPA noted that ground water contamination may occur around nuclear power plants. Therefore, EPA requested comments on whether there is a need to protect the groundwater and what protection is appropriate.
Fifth, EPA requested comment on spent nuclear fuel storage. EPA noted that when the Radiation Standards were first developed that little attention was paid to storage of radioactive materials. However, EPA stated that the issue has garnered more attention over the years with spent nuclear fuel being stored on site at nuclear facilities for extended periods of time. Given this increased attention in spent fuel storage, EPA questioned how a revised rule should address on-site storage of nuclear fuel.
Lastly, EPA requested comment on new nuclear technologies. EPA noted that new scientific information and technological advances have been made since the promulgation of the original Radiation Standards. As such, EPA sought input on what new information of technology should be considered in creating separate or different radiation limits. Also, EPA questioned whether it should consider proactively applying its Radiation Standards to nuclear technologies developed in the future.