In a stunning development, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed reversing a twelve year old policy that prohibits the use of recycled radioactive scrap metal materials in consumer goods.
In a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, CBG’s Dan Hirsch notes that the proposed policy change would “allow members of the public to be exposed to the equivalent of dozens of chest X-rays over their lifetimes from exposure to DOE nuclear waste, with no medical benefit and no informed consent.” As the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has repeatedly determined, all doses of radiation increase the risk of inducing cancer and leukemia. Hirsch goes on to conclude that the “American public should not be made into a kind of cheap disposal receptacle for DOE’s radioactive waste.”
The current policy banning the use of radioactive scrap metal in consumer products was put in place by former DOE secretary Bill Richardson after the public learned that the DOE had been shipping radioactive scrap metal from a partial nuclear meltdown site to metal recycling companies, and was planning to sell contaminated metals from the Oak Ridge nuclear facility to scrap yards for consumer use as well. These and other actions produced an outcry which led Secretary Richardson to suspend the practice, and then issue an order requiring new rules be established barring release of metals with detectible contamination above background.
Secretary Richardson also ordered an end to the practice until the results of an NAS study were released and required that a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) be completed by DOE before it would even contemplate returning to radioactive scrap metal recycling.
Now, Secretary Chu is considering issuing an order to reverse DOE policy and allow radioactive scrap metal recycling even though a PEIS was never completed and the NAS study concluded that there was such public concern about such a practice that it should not be approved unless there were significant public processes initiated to create a consensus on its acceptability.
Read CBG’s letter to the Department of Energy here.
After a three-year study, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that the SSFL site suffers from excessive levels of radioactive contamination.
CBG’s Dan Hirsch is quoted by the Ventura County Star regarding the news:
“We get bulldozed over constantly,” Dan Hirsch, of the watchdog nuclear group Committee to Bridge the Gap said before the meeting. “Three years, stimulus funds — you’re not supposed to mess around with stimulus funds. … The good news is they have done the study and they found all the contamination. The bad news is that people within DTSC and apparently EPA are trying to upend the very commitments they were supposed to carry out.”
Would Produce 1 Cancer Per 125 People Exposed
10/12/2008: EPA has now finalized the radiation protection standards for Yucca at 15 millirem/year for the first 10,000 years and 100 millirem/year thereafter. The 100 millirem figure is a breathtaking break with decades of EPA strenuous positions that permitting that high an exposure is “nonprotective of health.”
Click here for CBG’s Press Release (pdf)
The Department of Energy could not be trusted to find pollution it had created and had a conflict of interest in that it would have to pay to clean up any contamination located. Twenty years ago, EPA had found that DOE had been washing off the radioactivity off vegetation samples before monitoring them, and driving off the volatile radioactivity by heating to high temperature. More recently it was found that DOE was filtering out the radioactivity from groundwater samples before monitoring them. So an independent survey was necessary.
Congress appropriated up to $13 million for a comprehensive survey and directed EPA and DOE to enter into an Inter-Agency Agreement for a joint survey performed pursuant to EPA’s Superfund guidance. DOE defied the Congress and its repeated commitments to the legislators and the community. It insisted that it, DOE, do the onsite survey, with EPA relegated to looking over the paperwork. And DOE nonetheless went ahead and spent nearly all of the $13 million appropriation on matters unrelated to the survey, making the survey impossible.
As part of its “GAP Analysis” that would form the basis for DOE’s own survey, DOE claimed to be using EPA’s Preliminary Remediation Goals for the rural residential/agricultural land use scenario and EPA’s default inputs, as required by state law SB990. However, Bridge the Gap discovered that DOE had altered the EPA table, using values instead that were 100-1000 times higher (more lax) than the primary EPA cleanup goals. We exposed this in a couple of dramatic public meetings, and the disclosure appears to have helped get EPA to stand up and say “No” to DOE. To everyone’s surprise, DOE the next day backed down and agreed to let EPA alone do the survey.
There are a number of problems still ahead — one has to get Congress to appropriate new money for the survey, now that DOE has diverted the existing appropriation to other matters; that new language has to be airtight, so DOE can’t evade it like it did last year’s language; the survey has to cover the whole site, not just Area IV as DOE wishes; and EPA’s Gregg Dempsey, long promised by EPA to do the survey, indeed needs to direct it. But all told, this is a tremendous victory.
Related Documents [.pdf format]
Bridge the Gap and the Sierra Club recently discovered a proposed contract by which radioactive wastes from decommissioning the Rancho Seco nuclear plant would be sent out of state for disposal in landfills not licensed or designed for radioactive waste. This would effectively bypass a victory by CBG in state court several years ago that overturned a regulation that would have permitted such unlicensed dumping in California, and an administrative moratorium on such practices in the state that we got adopted. CBG and the Sierra Club filed a complaint with the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) Board [click here to see our letter], which resulted in a reversal by SMUD and a commitment not to send radioactive waste to unlicensed disposal sites [click here to see SMUD's response]. This victory is important not only for our region, but more broadly, since other radwaste generators would likely have used “SMUD does it” as an excuse for exploiting the same loophole.
- See CBG/Sierra Club Complaint to SMUD Board (click here)
- See the SMUD Board’s response letter (click here)