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Fact Sheet: Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197), Final Rule

Yucca Mountain Standards

This fact sheet explains the action EPA has taken in issuing the final public health and environmental radiation protection standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

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Final Standards Announced

On September 30, 2008, EPA announced the final public health and safety standards for the proposed facility for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The standards will protect public health and the environment for 1 million years, are consistent with the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and provide a reasonable test of the disposal system for an unprecedented time frame.

In establishing a dose limit that protects public health and future generations for up to a million years, EPA considered the National Academy of Sciences recommendations as well as national and international guidance and practices on projecting exposures very far into the future.

The Yucca Mountain facility will open only if it meets EPA’s standards to protect public health and the environment. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will determine through its licensing process whether the facility meets the standards and should be allowed to open.

The standards add to EPA’s original Yucca Mountain standards, which were issued in 2001. They are also responsive to the July 2004 ruling regarding the time period when compliance with the standards would be required, which was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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The Standards

The standards protect public health for up to 1 million years from the release of radioactive materials disposed of at the Yucca Mountain facility. They also retain the protectiveness of EPA’s original Yucca Mountain standards, which were issued in 2001.

The final rule is protective of public health, satisfies the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision, and is consistent with the NAS recommendations. It is also in line with approaches used in the international radioactive waste management community. The final standards will:

  1. Retain the dose limit of 15 millirem per year (150 microsieverts per year) for the first 10,000 years after disposal;
  2. Establish a dose limit of 100 millirem per year (1 millisievert per year) between 10,000 years and 1 million years;
  3. Require the Department of Energy (DOE) to consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, and corrosion of the waste packages to contain safely the waste during the 1 million-year period; and
  4. Be consistent with the recommendations of the NAS by establishing a radiological protection standard for this facility at the time of peak dose up to 1 million years after disposal.

The NRC has its own Yucca Mountain licensing requirements, 10 CFR Part 63. It must revise them to be consistent with the EPA standards.

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Background

In the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress required that EPA standards to protect public health and safety at Yucca Mountain be based upon and consistent with technical findings and recommendations made by the NAS. Congress also specified roles for the NRC and DOE. The NRC is responsible for implementing EPA's standards and determining if the Yucca Mountain facility can be safe enough to contain nuclear waste. DOE has applied to NRC for a license and will own, construct, operate and close the facility, should it be approved.

In 2001, EPA issued standards to limit radiation doses received by the public from Yucca Mountain. The disposal standards included a 10,000-year compliance period for protection of individuals and ground-water resources from potential release of radionuclides from Yucca Mountain. EPA required dose projections beyond the 10,000-year compliance period, but did not establish a specific compliance standard for the longer-term projections.

In July 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the 10,000-year time period when the dose standards would be in effect was inconsistent with recommendations made by the NAS in a 1995 report. The NAS had recommended that EPA set a standard to limit exposure to individuals at the time of peak risk. The Court did not rule that EPA’s standard was not protective. It ruled that the EPA standards were invalid to the extent that they did not extend to the time period recommended by the NAS.

In August 2005, EPA issued proposed amendments to the standards to respond to the D.C. Circuit Court ruling. The standards maintained all the protections from the 2001 rule, retaining the 15 millirem per year dose limit for the first 10,000 years after disposal, and proposing a 350 millirem per year dose limit beyond 10,000 years up to 1 million years.

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For Further Information

The final rule and supporting documentation are posted on EPA’s website at: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca.The final rule is also available at: http://regulations.gov, search for Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0083.

The official docket, EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0083, is also in the Docket public reading room. The Docket public reading room is located in the EPA Docket Center, Room 3334 in the EPA West Building, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. We also have placed an informational docket in the Lied Library at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas at the Research and Information Desk at the Public Library in Amargosa Valley, Nevada.

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* Millirem, microsievert and millisievert are units of measurement for radiation dose, which reflect the effects of ionizing radiation on humans.

 


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