NRC Publishes False Finding for Radioactive Dumping in Landfills

DOE Announces Plan to Move More Rocky Flats Waste to WIPP

* The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (or ANA) recently sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (or NRC) accusing them of publishing a false Finding of No Significant Impact in the Federal Register for a proposed rule that would allow NRC to dump uranium and thorium in unlicensed disposal facilities, including municipal landfills. ANA also says that NRC's finding was based on an Environmental Assessment of the proposal that did not exist.

NRC's register notice stated that the proposed dumping would have no significant impact on human health or the environment. NRC claimed that the finding was based on an environmental assessment, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and was available upon request. When ANA requested the assessment, Gary Comfort, Senior Project Manager for NRC, said, "The language included in the [Federal Register Notice] is the entire [assessment]. Because the [assessment] was straightforward and concise, it was included in the [notice]."

ANA pointed out that the notice failed to address the cancer risk posed by the proposed dumping, which may be as high as 2 cases of cancer per 1,000 people exposed. Furthermore, ANA indicated in the letter that such waste transfers to landfills would likely result in Superfund or state hazardous materials cleanups, which would increase exposure risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that exposure levels of 25 millirem per year do not adequately protect human health and the environment. ANA points out that the levels that NRC predicts from the proposal could be as high as 200 millirem per year. ANA said, "It is clear that the proposed action, which is admitted to have the potential to expose workers and the public to radiation doses far in excess of these other standards, has the potential to harm human health and the environment. Thus, a [more complete] environmental [analysis] must be prepared...."

* The Department of Energy (or DOE) announced this week that it plans to ship 45 truckloads of plutonium contaminated waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) near Carlsbad, despite claiming in February that, due to high plutonium concentration, an alternate destination would be found. DOE claims that they have since realized that the waste has just a low enough plutonium concentration to meet WIPP's disposal criteria. The waste represents nearly half of the surplus plutonium that is waiting to be shipped from Rocky Flats in order to satisfy its 2006 closure date.

Activists are concerned because DOE's decision was made without any prior public notice. Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "DOE made a promise in February and now has contradicted that promise without opportunity for public comment. This sets a very bad precedent for DOE policy making, which should be of grave concern for New Mexicans, considering that there are three major DOE facilities here. We hope that our Congressional delegation will communicate our concerns to DOE in order to increase openness in the decision making process, not only in New Mexico but throughout the DOE complex."

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