Whitman announces final standards for Yucca Mountain on public health and environmental protection

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman today announced final very stringent public health and environmental protection standards for Yucca Mountain, the proposed repository for spent fuel from the nation's commercial nuclear power plants.

June 7, 2001—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman today announced final very stringent public health and environmental protection standards for Yucca Mountain, the proposed repository for spent fuel from the nation's commercial nuclear power plants.

"As a nation, we must address our nuclear waste disposal problem, but we must do so in a way that protects public health and the environment," Whitman said. "EPA's Yucca Mountain environmental standards are the world's first to address long-term storage and disposal of this type of radioactive waste. These are strong standards and they should be. We designed them to ensure that people living near this potential repository will be protected-now and for future generations."

The fundamental Yucca Mountain requirements for protecting people and ground-water have not changed from previous drafts. The standards issued today address all potential sources of radiation exposure from ground-water, air, and soil. The standards are designed to protect the residents closest to the repository at levels that are within the Agency's acceptable risk range for environmental pollutants. This corresponds to a dose limit of no more than 15 millirem per year from all pathways—about twice the exposure of just living in a brick house for a year. Naturally occurring radioactive materials and the radiation they produce are found everywhere such as in food, soil and water.

Whitman also announced separate standards to protect ground-water resources. The proposed repository sits above an aquifer that is a critical source of water for irrigation, dairy cattle farming and drinking water. Consistent with EPA's long-standing commitment to protect potential drinking water sources, the standard for Yucca Mountain protects groundwater resources to the 4 millirem per year limit established under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The separate groundwater standard is on average 15 times more stringent than the all pathways standard. This is the same level of protection applied to current and future sources of drinking water across the U.S.

"Under these standards future generations will be securely protected. Our standards require that a person living in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain and drinking untreated water at the site 10,000 years from now, will have less radiation exposure than we get today in about two round-trip flights from New York to Los Angeles," Whitman explained. Those flights equal an exposure of about 14 millirem.

While the core environmental requirements are the same as in the proposed rule, two modifications were made that will change how the Department of Energy (DOE) would demonstrate that the Yucca Mountain facility is safe. First, the final standards were made more protective by establishing an additional 2 kilometer (1 mile) safety zone between the nearest residents and the location where DOE must prove it is meeting the EPA standard. The change is from 20 kilometers (12 miles) to 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the repository.

The second modification involves the volume of ground-water DOE will have to analyze to show it is meeting the environmental standard. EPA is requiring DOE to evaluate the potential for radiation in 3,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater. Based on public comments to our proposal, and local input, the Agency adjusted the volume of water to more accurately reflect current and projected water usage near Yucca Mountain. An acre foot is one acre of water one foot deep.

Yucca Mountain is located in Nye County, Nevada, on federally owned land about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the site for a potential geologic repository for safe storage and disposal of spent fuel from the nation's commercial nuclear power plants and other high-level radioactive waste. That waste currently is stored at commercial nuclear power plants and research reactor sites in 43 states.

Before the site can open and accept radioactive waste, the Secretary of Energy must recommend, and the President must approve Yucca Mountain as a safe repository for nuclear waste. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission must determine that the Department of Energy can meet EPA's standards and other licensing requirements. DOE is responsible for the construction, management and operation of the repository. The earliest date the Yucca Mountain repository could be licensed and approved to accept radioactive waste is at least eight years from now-2010. During that time, both DOE and NRC will continue to provide the public opportunities to comment.

For more information about EPA's final public health and environmental protection standards for Yucca Mountain, go to www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca. To receive a printed copy of the final rule and support documents, call EPA's toll-free Yucca Mountain Information Line, 1-800-331-9477.

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