Citizens Groups Sue EPA on the Yucca Mountain Radiation Protection Standards

Nevada Scientist Finds Groundwater from Yucca Mountain Flows Towards California

National Research Council Recommends Additional Monitoring at WIPP

* A coalition of national and Nevada-based environmental, consumer advocacy, and public interest groups filed suit against the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) for its rule that establishes radiation protection standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository. The EPA's radiation protection rule, which was published in the Federal Register on June 13, sets the standards by which the site's suitability will be determined.

Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen, one of the plaintiff groups, said, "A stringent standard is vital to protect public health and safety in the vicinity of the proposed repository. The EPA's rule affords inadequate protection to the people of Nevada and steers national nuclear waste policy in a dangerous direction."

EPA created an 18-km (or 12-mile) unregulated sacrifice zone around the proposed repository in order to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. The groups say that the sacrifice zone allows the Department of Energy (or DOE) repository designs to rely on dilution and dispersion, rather than containment, of the radioactive waste.

John Hadder, northern Nevada coordinator with Citizen Alert, one of the plaintiff groups, said, "This undermines the purpose of the radiation protection standards, by presuming that a repository at Yucca Mountain will not contain nuclear waste throughout the thousands of years it remains dangerous."

David Adelman, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, another one of the plaintiff groups, said, "We have advocated a protective standard at all stages of the process leading up to this rule being finalized. We are now bringing this issue before the courts because our concerns have not been addressed."

* A Nevada state scientist has found that the DOE's calculations for the direction and speed of groundwater movement at Yucca Mountain could be wrong. The study is still in progress, but hydrologist Linda Lehman has found that radiation could escape from the proposed facility within the 10,000-year federal standard for groundwater contamination, and expose citizens. Lehman found that the groundwater flows southwest towards California along earthquake faults and fractures and that the radiation may escape from the repository along those routes sooner than DOE estimates. DOE scientists say that the groundwater flows east towards the Nevada Test Site, and then south towards the Amargosa Valley. Lehman will publish her results early next year.

* A National Research Council committee told DOE that it should conduct more monitoring at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) to detect radioactivity leaking out from the nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The 15-member committee said that "uncertainties" remain about the facility's ability to meet 10,000-year federal performance requirements. The committee recommended that DOE expand its monitoring for the buildup of hydrogen and other gases, the brine and moisture traveling into the repository, and the oil and gas drilling in the area. While activists say that these issues are important, the committee should recommend the closure of Panel One for waste disposal, oppose the shipments of waste from the Nevada Test Site through the Big I construction, and oppose the centralized waste characterization at the WIPP site for scientific and technical reasons.

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