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U.S. EPA and NRC Reducing Radiation Protection Standards Parallels seen to Japanese Industry collusion with “Regulators” to Weaken Standards

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

As Nuclear Monitor readers know, the International commission on radiological Protection (IcrP) is a self-appointed, self-perpetuating, nuclear power-promoting organization that set itself up to give the world the impression they are independent experts.

In 2007, the ICRP published 103 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protectionwith input from the nuclear establishment around the world. Since then, nuclear governments around the world have been adopting the parts that their own nuclear industry likes best. U.S. agencies are in the midst of this activity. Although it is much of the basis for the world’s radiation standards, the report is not free to read. Only an except is available for free on the web. (1)

It was recently revealed by Associated Press that Japanese nuclear utilities fund the Japanese representative to the ICRP. (2) This is routine procedure but not publicly known. Members of the ICRP are without exception strong nuclear advocates.

In 2004, NIRS recommended two public interest members (Dr Judith Johnsrud and Dennis Nelson, both from the U.S.) be added to the ICRP, specifically the committee making recommendations on allowable environmental releases and exposure to non-human species. We were told we have to raise our own money to send them to the meetings but even after we committed to that the ICRP refused to acknowledge or consider nuclear critics.

In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are undertaking major radiation regulation changes, both weakening radiation protection for the public and environment. The Department of Energy (DOE) already adopted changes to its internal orders, adopting some of the provisions that the public and metal industry strongly opposed in the late 1990s.

The same EPA offices that are pushing to weaken U.S. radiation standards, the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air and the Office of Emergency Management, are advising the Japanese on cleanup and allowable contamination levels. They seem to be using a new Protective Action Guide even though that Guide has not been adopted in the U.S. and ignoring the EPA's traditional risk range and advising higher exposures. These offices were part of the team with DOE, NRC and others that advised the Department of Homeland Security to adopt Dirty Bomb cleanup guidance (3) in 2008 that that would allow people to move back into areas that dosed them with up to 10 rads/year. National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII risk numbers show that allowing habitation in a radiation field of that level would cause cancer in 1 in 3 people living there for years.

The EPA may also be pushing to increase the allowable maximum contamination levels in drinking water above those currently allowed, radionuclide by radionuclide. In a previously proposed version of the Protective Action Guidance, which was pulled back in 2009, the allowable concentrations of radionuclides were increased hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times.

The NRC staff is recommending to the five Commissioners that they selectively adopt the parts of the ICRP recommendations that the nuclear industry wants, rather than the whole thing.(4) There is no acknowledgement of the public interest and public health comments evident in their ongoing document preparation. The U.S. still allows workers to get 2 ½ times more exposure than ICRP recommends (5 rems/year vs 2 rems/year). ICRP recommends “clearance,” exemption and exclusion of some radioactive waste and materials so their doses are not even considered and they can be released from controls. NRC wants to adopt this but the public opposition is still strong so they are finding other, more secretive ways of letting the waste out of controls. Watch for more on NRC rulemaking, ignoring the most vulnerable in future Nuclear Monitors.

In 1970, when the EPA was created by Congress, one its responsibilities was protecting the public and the environment from ionizing radiation. Congress had not expressly ruled that it is legal to kill people from exposure to chemicals, radiation or other pollutants, but the EPA adopted an “acceptable risk range,” committing to keep contamination low enough to cause only 1 cancer in a million people exposed over their lifetime. If that is not possible, EPA can permit higher risks—1 in 100,000 or, at the worst, 1 in 10,000 people exposed to get cancer. This has been supported by the courts and has been the basis for Superfund cleanup levels, site decommissioning and the drinking water standards. Like all the other agencies, EPA uses risk numbers based on the “standard man” rather than protecting the most vulnerable—women, children, the fetus, those with reduced immunity or high accumulations of radiation in their bodies already and the elderly. So everyone other than the standard man or the averaged adult (average of men and women’s risk) is actually at even higher risk than 1 in 10,000. Regardless, EPA’s radiation standards for water are generally much more protective than other radiation standards in the U.S. Thus they are a target for the nuclear industry which needs ever higher allowable release levels to continue operating and to manage its waste.

During the years that George W. Bush was president, the EPA devised a plan to “update” –read gut—EPA’s Protective Action Guidance (PAG) for protection of the U.S. population from radiation. On his very last day in office the proposal was sent to the Federal Register to be published. To their credit, at that time, the-new EPA Director Lisa Jackson, under newly elected President Obama, pulled the PAGs back. Because the proposed contamination levels and subsequent risks were so high, a coalition of national organizations met with all of the EPA Deputy Administrators to ask that the Bush-era PAGs be completely withdrawn. But they appear to have lived on. Now, at the tail end of 2012, a version of these PAGs is at the Office of Management and Budget, which is the last step before apublic comment period and adoption by EPA. This is expected to be one of several radioactive 2012 holiday gifts to the U.S. public from the agencies charged with protecting us from radiation.

The following analysis comes from the presentation made to the EPA Administrators (5)

Although the specifics of the proposed Protective Action Guidance is not public as of this writing, indications are that it is very similar, possibly worse in some ways, than the one pulled back in 2009.

Keep in mind that 1 cancer in 10,000 (1x 10e-4) is the EPA’s traditional highest allowable risk. A cumulative (not annual) dose of 100 millirems or 1 milliSievert gives a risk higherthan 1 in 10,000. According to EPA’s own Blue Book, EPA 402-R-11-001, Radiogenic Cancer Risk Models & Projections for the U.S. Population, (6) 87 millirems or .87 milliSievert will cause ~1 in 10,000 over their lifetime to get cancer. [Calculation is 0.087 rem x (1.16 x 10e-3 {the NAS BEIRVII risk}) cancers per rem = 1 x 10e-4]. Again this is for standard men or averaged adults, not women, who get 50% more cancer than men from the same amount of radiation, nor for kids-- especially baby girls--who are at greatest risk. According to EPA’s own Blue Book data, exposures before age 30 produce ~1.8 times more cancers than to older people. To be within the risk range, no one should get more than a few millirems (or a few tens of microSieverts) per year exposure.

100 millirem/year for 30 years would, according to EPA’s own risk figures, result in cancer incidence about two orders of magnitude higher than the highest end of EPA’s risk range. NRC’s general limits are, in fact, 100 mrem/year. DOE’s are 100 to 500 mrem/year.

Radiation exposure to a female infant, according to EPA, will result in 4-5 times the cancer risk than the age- and gender-averaged risk used in the regulations. This doesn’t take into account that the same amount of radioactivity ingested or inhaled can result in a much higher dose in an infant because of the small body size.

So, exposure to 2000 mrem or 20mSv per year--the controversial Japanese emergency standard for kids during school hours, and the existing US level for the intermediate period after a dirty bomb or other radiation incident--would result, according to EPA’s official risk figures, in a radiation-induced cancer risk of 2.3 in 1000 which is about one in five hundred, an order of magnitude higher than EPA’s 1 in 10,000.

The 2007 EPA draft Protective Action Guide would have allowed inadequate cleanup of a radiation event by permitting options from a range of benchmark cleanup levels: 

  • 0.1  rem (100 mr or 1 mSv), 
  • 1 rem (1000mr or 10 mSv) 1 or 
  • 10 rems/year (10,000 mr or 100 mSv).

It is believed that these benchmark levels are not expressly listed in the current EPA PAG proposal but that they are implied as options to be considered if and when needed.

Over 30 years of exposure at these rates, the risks are respectively, 7 in 1000, 7 in 100 and 7 in 10 people getting cancer over their lifetimes. Obviously these are much greater risks than EPA’s 1 in a million to 1 in 10,000 range.

The ICRP-recommended process of “Optimization” would still be used, but might not be stated as such. “Optimization” is a calculation done by the licensee or waste generator to keep exposures as low as reasonably achievable, taking economic and social factors into account. Differing, greater health impacts to various members of the population do not have to be considered when “optimizing” allowable exposures. NIRS has commented to ICRP against this manipulation from its inception. DOE has embraced it in its recent internal radiation orders.

Details of the Multi-group presentation to EPA re upcoming Protective Action Guides and inadequate response to Fukushima is at

(3)  Federal Register Volume 73, Number 149 (August 1, 2008) Pages 45029-45048
(5)  (

There's no place for nuclear in the US 'Clean Power Plan'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Tim Judson − Executive Director, Nuclear Information & Resource Service

The US Environmental Protection Agency's plan for 'clean power' are welcome, writes Tim Judson − except for its inclusion of nuclear, and economic distortions and serious omissions that favour the technology. This open letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls on the EPA to ditch the 'false and irrational assumptions' used to justify both new and existing nuclear power.

Dear Administrator Gina McCarthy,

We strongly support the EPA's goals in the Clean Power Plan draft regulation, and we are grateful for the agency's leadership in setting a critical policy for reducing emissions from the electricity generation sector. We also appreciate the fact that the Clean Power Plan's purpose is to create enforceable goals for states to reduce emissions, and a framework (the Best System of Emissions Reduction / BSER) for them to implement and comply with the targets.

Unfortunately, the treatment of nuclear energy in the draft rule is unsupported by meaningful analysis, and would make it possible for states to implement the rule in ways that are counterproductive to the Clean Power Plan's purpose of reducing emissions.

The role of nuclear power must be re-evaluated

We are, additionally, very concerned about industry proposals to expand provisions to encourage nuclear. We urge the EPA to conduct a thorough and fact-based analysis of nuclear, and to do the following:

  • Remove the preservation of existing nuclear reactors from the BSER.
  • Do not force Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee to finish building new reactors.
  • Conduct a thorough and accurate analysis of the environmental impacts of nuclear power, from radioactive waste and uranium mining to reactor accidents and water use.
  • Recognize and incorporate the much greater role renewable energy and efficiency can, will, and must play in reducing carbon emissions and replacing both fossil fuels and nuclear.

We recognize that the EPA has undertaken a monumental task in developing the Clean Power Plan − perhaps the most important single step in setting the U.S. on the path to reducing emissions enough to avert the worst of global warming and climate change.

It is essential that we begin making substantial reductions in emissions immediately, and that the institutional inertia and narrow self-interest of utilities and major power companies do not stand in the way of deploying the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable energy solutions.

For that very reason, it is important the regulation ensures states do not get off on the wrong foot and implement the rule in ways that are counterproductive.

False and irrational assumptions

Unfortunately, the Clean Power Plan's treatment of nuclear incentivizes the preservation and expansion of a technology that is and has always been the most expensive, inflexible, and dangerous complement to fossil fuels.

The Clean Power Plan incorporates nuclear into the BSER in two ways:

  • Assumes five new reactors will be completed and brought online in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and irrationally estimates the cost of doing so as $0. In fact, billions more remain to be spent on these reactors and there is a great deal of uncertainty about when, if ever, they will be completed, facing years of delays and billions in cost overruns. The cost assumption would force states to complete the reactors no matter the cost, rather than enabling them to choose better ways to meet their emissions goals. Even though renewables and efficiency could be deployed at lower cost than nuclear, the draft rule would make it look like they are much more expensive because of the zero-cost assumption about completing the reactors.
  • Encourages states to 'preserve' reactors economically at-risk of being closed, equivalent to 6% of each state's existing nuclear generation. While it is true that about 6% of the nation's operating reactors may close for economic reasons, this provision encourages every state to subsidize existing reactors, greatly underestimates the cost of doing so, and overestimates their role in reducing emissions. Uneconomical reactors have high and rising operating costs, and cannot compete with renewables and efficiency.

The rule also says states may utilize two other ways of adding nuclear capacity as options for achieving the goals, even though they are not incorporated in the BSER:

  • New reactors other than those currently in construction. EPA recognizes that new nuclear is too expensive to be included in the BSER, so it should not suggest states consider it as a way of meeting their emissions goals.
  • Power uprate modifications to increase the generation capacity of existing reactors. Power uprates are capital-intensive and expensive, and several recent projects have been cancelled or suffered major cost overruns, in the case of Minnesota's Monticello reactor, at a total cost greater than most new reactors (US$10 million/megawatt).1

Rather than suggesting states waste resources on nuclear generation too expensive and infeasible to be included in the BSER, EPA should include an analysis of these problems so that states can better evaluate their options and select lower-cost, more reliable means for reducing emissions, such as renewables and efficiency.

Serious nuclear concerns ignored

The Clean Power Plan also considers some non-air quality impacts of nuclear generation, as it is required to do under the Clean Air Act. However, the EPA's evaluation is both woefully incomplete and alarmingly inadequate. EPA dismisses concerns about radioactive waste and nuclear power's impact on water resources, simply characterizing them as equivalent to problems with fossil fuel generation.

In fact, radioactive waste is an intractable problem that threatens the environment for potentially hundreds of thousands of years. In addition, nuclear reactors' use of water is more intensive than fossil fuel technologies, and a majority of existing reactors utilize the most water-intensive once-through cooling systems.

Regardless, however, rather than only comparing them to fossil fuels, EPA should have compared these impacts to the full range of alternatives, including renewables and efficiency, which do not have such problems.

EPA leaves out a host of other environmental impacts unique to nuclear, including uranium mining and nuclear accidents. There are over 10,000 abandoned uranium mines throughout the US, which are subject to lax environmental standards, pose major groundwater and public health risks, present serious environmental justice concerns, and could entail billions in site cleanup and remediation costs.

The failure to consider the impacts of a nuclear accident is a glaring oversight, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. EPA must consider both the environmental and economic impact of nuclear accidents.

Renewables can do the job!

In general, the Clean Power Plan's consideration of nuclear appears to be based on a dangerous fallacy: that closed reactors must be replaced with fossil fuel generation, presumably because other low- / zero-carbon resources could not make up the difference.

In fact, renewable energy growth has surpassed all other forms of new generation for going on three years, making up 48% of all new electricity generation brought online from 2011 to July 2014.2

The growth rate of wind energy alone (up to 12,000 MW per year) would be sufficient to replace all of the 'at-risk' nuclear capacity within two years, at lower cost than the market price of electricity,3 let alone at the subsidized rate for nuclear the draft rule suggests.

Assuming that closed reactors will be replaced with fossil fuel generation both encourages states to waste resources trying to 'preserve' (or even build) uneconomical reactors rather than on more cost-effective and productive investments in renewables and efficiency.

While states are free to develop their implementation plans without using the specific energy sources included in the BSER, the rule should not promote such foolishness.

No amount of spending or subsidies for nuclear has been effective at reducing the technology's costs nor overcoming lengthy construction times and delays, whereas spending on renewables and efficiency has had the effect of lowering their costs and increasing their rate of deployment.

The economic problems facing currently operating reactors merely underscore the point that nuclear is not a cost-effective way of reducing emissions.

We believe that correcting the problems with the way nuclear is considered in the draft rule, and increasing the role of renewables and efficiency, will make the Clean Power Plan much stronger and lead states to implement it more productively and cost-effectively.


1. Shaffer, David. 'Xcel management blamed for cost overruns at Monticello nuclear plant'. Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 9, 2014,
2. Sun Day Campaign. 'Renewables Provide 56 Percent of New US Electrical Generating Capacity in First Half of 2014'. July 21, 2014,
3. Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. '2013 Wind Technologies Market Report'. US Department of Energy. August 18,2014,