Radiation Standards: Scientific Basis Inconclusive, and EPA and NRC Disagreement Continues

RCED-00-152 Published: Jun 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2000.
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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) radiation standards, focusing on: (1) whether the U.S. radiation protection standards have a well-verified scientific basis; (2) whether federal agencies have come closer to agreeing on standards since GAO reported on this issue in 1994; and (3) how implementing these standards may affect the costs of nuclear waste cleanup and disposal activities.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
The congressional committees of jurisdiction may wish to reconcile EPA's and NRC's policy differences on groundwater protection for Yucca Mountain. Also, in connection with the two agencies' efforts to complete a memorandum of understanding relating to the cleanup and decommissioning of nuclear sites, these Committees may wish to clarify the agencies' regulatory responsibilities.
Closed – Not Implemented
NRC published their final rule on groundwater protection standards for yucca mountain by incorporating EPA's groundwater protection standards. NRC and EPA did not resolve any disagreement between their groundwater protection standards. Instead, according to DOE "Yucca Mountain Project Site Suitability Material," NRC and EPA acted pursuant to specific directives in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, in which Congress first assigned to EPA the responsibility to set these standards, and later in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which directed the EPA to act in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences and develop a standard specifically for Yucca Mountain. According to Tim McCartin, NRC, Advisor to the Director of the High Level Waste Repository Safety, no Congressional action was taken to resolve the NRC/EPA disagreement. In addition, EPA and NRC signed a memorandum of understanding on October 9, 2002, that addressed the issue of decommissioning. Again, according to Mr. McCartin, this memorandum was signed without congressional action.

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