After deliberating for a period of time approaching a decade, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new draft Protective Action Manual that includes Protective Action Guides (PAG) for people responsible for responding to radioactive material releases that might come from one of the following sources:
- a fire in a major facility such as a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant;
- an accident at a federal nuclear weapons complex facility;
- an accident at a commercial nuclear power plant (NPP);
- a transportation accident involving radioactive material;
- a terrorist act involving a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or yield-producing Improvised Nuclear Device (IND).
The “new” radiation dose response limits in the draft PAGs are virtually unchanged from the ones recommended in the currently active Protective Action Manual (13 MB PDF), which was issued in 1992. According to experts like Dr. Jerry Cuttler, who focuses on the health effects of low level radiation, the limits could be relaxed by a factor of 50 and still keep the public safe.
Not surprisingly, strongly antinuclear organizations like the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) are working hard to portray the new guidance as a frightening relaxation of the limits in comparison to such scientifically invalid limits as the one that the EPA applies to long term nuclear waste disposal – 15 mrem per year, which is 1/20th of average natural background.
Groups that are fundamentally opposed to the beneficial use of nuclear energy have been working hard since 2005 to try to force the EPA to issue far more stringent guidance that would be virtually impossible to execute in any reasonably foreseeable radiological material release for any source other than a nuclear power plant. (Nuclear power plants can, with enough additional investment in modeling and more redundant layers of mitigation, probably meet any proposed standard.) Watching the politics of this evolution has been interesting; the fact that the guides are still sort of reasonable is largely a result of efforts to inject real world analysis by first responders representing the Department of Homeland Security.
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