Matt Wald responded to the comment I described in my post titled Too Hot to Touch – Matt Wald’s review of new book on nuclear waste issue. As a brief reminder, in that post I told him that he and the authors of Too Hot To Touch were misinforming the public by stating that the EPA’s dose rate standard was designed to protect the public from significant radiation doses over a period of 10,000 to on million years.
My claim is that the EPA’s 15 mrem/year (0.15 mSv/year) standard attempts to control insignificant doses with an imposed limit that is 1/20th of normal background radiation. Heck, it is nearly impossible to measure the source of such a dose without specialized apparatus that counts for a long time in an area shielded from normal background levels.
Wald posted the following response on the now defunct Green blog.
Matthew L. Wald
Energy reporter, The New York Times
You and I agree.
The book characterizes the dose you mention as insignificant, which I think is a reasonable outlook. The licensing criteria set that 15 millirem as an upper limit, meaning that the rules prohibit a significant dose for milennia.
The point here is not the maximum dose allowed, but the incredibly long time period to which it applies.
I responded to that with the following comment.
Matt – perhaps I did not make myself clear. If the regulations were aimed at preventing SIGNIFICANT doses, they would have been set at something near or even above normal background. Until you get to that level, spending more money in prevention is like trying to purify already clean, potable water. It is simply not worth the effort if the goal is human health protection, but it can become exceedingly expensive.
If the dose rate limit for Yucca was set at 300 mrem (3 mSv) per year, I am pretty sure that the scientists and engineers would have been able to guarantee compliance for whatever time frame is imposed.
The key, unchangeable characteristic of radioactive material is that it gets less radioactive with every passing day. Extending the calendar requirement does not matter once the material has decayed to a certain level.
Infinity would be fine as a standard if the dose rate was reasonable.
Like your wax analogy, if the standard was “do not harm the people” rather than “do not allow wax to touch the tablecloth” there would no longer any problem to solve. The R&D money spigot would shut, and the nuclear industry would be able to move forward smartly to address the triple challenge of providing sufficient supplies of reliable energy without dumping CO2 into our shared atmosphere.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
(The final paragraph has been revised from the original. That is what writers do whenever they have a chance to improve their work.)