Comments upon the proposed Rule Making

"National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Standards for emission of radionuclides other than Radon......"

Federal Register 65:90 page 29934-9 Tuesday May 9th 2000
 Richard Wilson
Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics
Cambridge, MA, 02138
Tel: 617 495 3387
Home tel: 617 332 4823
FAX: 617 495 0416
Address, phone and E mail for identification only
May 31st 2000

(1) Overall purpose of Regulations of Radionuclides

Any document should discuss its purpose. This in particular applies to regulatory documents. The statement in section A "Justification for the Proposal" is far from adequate. It does not address the fundamental purpose - the protection of human health. The absence of a justification traceable back to this fundamental purpose makes the whole proposal ludicrous, incomprehensible, and potentially VERY dangerous. I proffer a possible justification:

In order to protect the public from the possible adverse effects of radiation upon health, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has recommended that radiation doses to the public from anthropogenic activities be kept to below 170 mrems/year average. Recognizing that there are fluctuations, they suggest that this will easily be achieved if individuals are allowed to have 500 mrem/year. In ICRP (Publication 60, paragraph (192) they recommend that the dose rate limit for members of the public be an effective dose of 100 mrem/year. "In special circumstances, a higher value can be allowed in a single year, provided that the average over 5 years does not exceed 100 mrem/year." For a single source (such as a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility, the ICRP suggests something in the range of 10 to 25 mrem/year. Even 500 mrem/yr would only amount to an approximate doubling of the natural background. It is a consensus of many expert committees that the effect on health of an exposure to this level for a lifetime would not lead to a directly measurable effect because any effect would be small.

Studies such as those summarized in the reports of the United Nations Subcommittee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) show that anthropogenic activities are on average far lower than this, and the main component is medical X rays. Indeed anthropogenic radiation doses other than medical X rays are smaller than the place to place fluctuation in natural background to which little attention is given. According to reliable estimates from NRC, ( the nuclear fuel cycle (which includes DOE facilities) only produces a dose to the average American of 0.05 millrems compared to a total natural background of 300 millirems equivalent. Natural background is 6000 times as great (on average) as the radiation that the proposed regulation would address. Any new regulation must be justified against these simple facts.

(2). It is my understanding that, after a lengthy exchange of memoranda, and numerous meetings, (not referred to in the proposal) EPA reached agreement that the existing NRC dose rate limit for airborne releases from organizations licensed to use radioactive materials was acceptable. That dose rate limit (expressed in terms of effective dose) was 25 mrem/year, including the proviso that it be applied in conjunction with the ALARA criterion. Extensive surveys of airborne emissions from licensees throughout the nation demonstrated that the imposition of a 25 mrem/year limit, in conjunction with the application of the ALARA criterion, resulted in essentially no licensee exceeding EPA's then proposed effective dose rate limit of 10 mrem/year. This agreement does not seem to be reflected in this proposed rule. For large commercial nuclear power plants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set a "design objective" presented in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I (given in Section II, Parts B.1 and B.2). These are as follows: asked that power plants be designed to keep doses at site boundary be kept below 10 mrem/year. The calculated annual total quantity of all radioactive material above background to be released from each light-water-cooled nuclear power reactor to the atmosphere will not result in an estimated annual air dose from gaseous effluents at any location near ground level which could be occupied by individuals in unrestricted areas in excess of 10 millirads for gamma radiation or 20 millirads for beta radiation. This is easy to achieve for the US light water reactors so it is worthwhile doing even if the true benefit to public health is small. This "design objective" must be achieved by calculation since it is recognized that doses this low cannot directly be measured in the presence of the much larger background. It is desirable to be consistent with NRC in so far as possible because they have extensive knowledge and experience in the understanding and regulation of radiation. At the very least any difference from NRC should be explained and justified in detail.

(3) The is an important and increasing realization that performance based regulation and risk based regulation are superior to prescriptive regulation. Thus after a regulation to keep doses at site boundary to less than 10 mrem per year (or better 25 mrems per year as noted in (2) above) has been promulgated it should be open to the entity being regulated on how to meet it. Prescription by EPA is unnecessary at best and usually counterproductive. This proposal in particular is mostly prescriptive regulation and as such is outdated and must be reconsidered.

(4) There is an unproven postulate that the effects of radiation on people are linear at low doses. This has led to a recommendation that doses be reduced to a level As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a 2 year long public hearing discussed what this means in practice and came up with a recommendation that doses be reduced if they can be done for a sum of $1,000 per man.rem now updated for inflation (and corrected for political correctness) to $200,000 per person.Sievert. This should be the standard against which any regulation must be compared. If an entity can (and does) emit radiation or radionuclides which can be reduced, then a regulation can force him to spend that money. Conversely, if a regulation demands a higher cost than this it should be changed.

The 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Acts, perhaps for the first time other than FIFRA, granted EPA discretionary authority, if it determines that the technically feasible level does not justify the costs, to adjust the standard to a level that maximizes health risk reduction benefits at a cost that is justified by the benefits. It would seem that this authority could apply to other EPA regulations also and indeed it should be discussed. It is noteworthy that if a linear, no threshold, dose response is assumed, with a slope as recommended by the usual bodies, this corresponds to the recommendation of the EPA itself in its proposed guidelines for economic cost/benefit analyzes of summer 1998, that costs should be incurred at $4,000,000 per "statistical life". The NRC proposal is more definite and workable because it sidesteps the unknowable issue of whether or not there is a threshold. I find, regrettably no discussion at all about this. EPA should have a clear and definite reason for deviating from the $20 per person Sievert discussed by NRC.

(5) Taking into account the above considerations, the new regulation for DOE facilities could well be a dose limit identical to that adopted by NRC for single facilities - 25 mrems/year - although 10 mrem/year could be a design goal. But it should be up to DOE to decide how to meet it. The EPA should not make demands on the particular way of meeting the goal. Any intervention by EPA on the details should be no more than suggestions. In particular the demand that emissions from a particular stack be limited so that the calculated dose be 1% of 10 mrems per year (0.1 mrems per year) is too draconian. It does not allow for fluctuations. If there are 100 stacks, it is unlikely that more than 10 stacks (the square root of 100) will actually be emitting at the high level. Thus the 1% could be replaced by "1/(square root of the number of emitting stacks)". But it would be better for EPA to say nothing at all.

An example of the problems this rule would create is a postulated application to coal-fired power plants, although these are not DOE facilities. Each stack would be regulated to provide no more than 0.1 mrems per year to the public. There are enough radionuclides in coal that many stacks in these coal-fired power plants now operating would emit radionuclides that provide off site does that exceed this amount and therefore would be in violation.

(6) Specific suggested changes in the proposed rule

(a) EPA should ensure that the proposed "effective dose equivalent" (10 mrem per year) discussed at the bottom of FR page 29934 middle column is consonant with NRC policy, guidelines and regulations AND STATE THAT IT IS CONSISTENT. If it is not consistent, the proposed EPA rule should be modified.

(b) The method of meeting this requirement should not be mandated. It should be up to DOE to decide how to meet the criterion, and to provide evidence to EPA that it is being met.

(c) If my recommendation in (6b) is not followed, continuous monitoring of releases mandated on page 29935 middle column (last paragraph in small print) should be changed to demand continuous monitoring ONLY for stacks or ducts that are estimated to give an off site radiation dose of greater than 5 mrems per year, and allow estimation for all other stacks or ducts.

(d) On page 29934 the proposal quotes from a new ANSI standard. It is unclear (without further background reading for which time does not permit) whether the new proposal is to urge the adoption of the new ANSI standard. If the plan is to adopt the new ANSI standard the proposal should say so, and say it unequivocally. If the proposal differs from the ANSI standard it should say so, and unequivocally. But it should be said in the form of a recommendation and not a requirement. I suggest "the use of the latest ANSI standard (and any revision of it) shall be deemed adequate evidence that the facility meets the requirements of this section"