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EPA Mulling Relaxed Radiation Protections For Nuclear Power 230

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-new-member-of-the-x-men-per-100,000-normals dept.
mdsolar sends this news from Forbes: Both proponents and opponents of nuclear power expect the Environmental Protection Agency in coming months to relax its rules restricting radiation emissions from reactors and other nuclear facilities. EPA officials say they have no such intention, but they are willing to reconsider the method they use to limit public exposure—and the public's level of risk.

At issue is a 1977 rule that limits the total whole-body radiation dose to any member of the public from the normal operation of the uranium fuel cycle—fuel processing, reactors, storage, reprocessing or disposal—to 0.25 millisieverts per year. (This rule, known as 40 CFR part 190, is different from other EPA regulations that restrict radionuclides in drinking water and that limit public exposure during emergencies. Those are also due for revision.) "We have not made any decisions or determined any specifics on how to move forward with any of these issues. We do, however, believe the regulation uses outdated science, and we are thinking about how to bring the regulation more in line with current thinking," said Brian Littleton, a chemical engineer with EPA's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air."
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EPA Mulling Relaxed Radiation Protections For Nuclear Power

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  • About time (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 19, 2014 @08:30PM (#47491411)
    It's good to see the EPA finally considering relaxing some of its uptight, business-hostile regulations. No wonder the US is losing ground to the developing world when for a few decades it has pushed this regulatory regime that holds industry back and has really harmed wider adoption of nuclear energy. As the case of China shows, the population is willing to accept an increase in pollution as long as the country sees strong economic growth and (something to think of after the "Obamacare" wrangling) advanced and affordable health services are available to somewhat make up for the possible decrease in life expectancy that said pollution might entail.
    • Re:About time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @08:50PM (#47491495) Journal

      As the case of China shows, the population is willing to accept an increase in pollution

      It's amazing how much the population is willing to accept, provided that they have no say in the matter.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        It's amazing how much the population is willing to accept, provided that they have no say in the matter.

        China is aiming to build enough nuclear capacity to beat the USA + France (#1 and #2 users of nuclear power) combined.

        • China is aiming to build enough nuclear capacity to beat the USA + France (#1 and #2 users of nuclear power) combined.

          Mr. President, we cannot allow a nuclear capacity gap!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
      Well, jeez, in the case of China, the alternative is "stark poverty" so it's not really a choice. Forty years of Marxism reduced their people to equality - equally poor. The Communist Party hijacked the people's revolution onto the capitalist road and it's been all up since then. And the EPA really does have uptight, business-hostile practices. Just ask the people who work there what they think about the very idea that businesses should be allowed to exist, much less make a profit.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Nuclear isn't profitable without heavy subsidy. It seems only fair that a business which is entirely dependent on government hand-outs should have to play by some fairly strict safety rules.

        The alternative is to just let them get on with it, in which case they will be filing for bankruptcy next Tuesday when they find they can't get any insurance, can't afford to run the plant and can't deal with all the lawsuits coming their way. I'm up for that, but only if every penny of subsidy is immediately transferred

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mr D from 63 (3395377)
          All energy sources are subsidized to some extent, as most countries place great economic value on having lower cost electricity. If all subsidies were removed, gas would completely dominate, followed by coal and nuclear. Solar and wind would not stand a chance. Solar, on a dollar per kwh generated basis, receives subsidies many times greater than any of our traditional sources, as does wind.

          I'm all for equal subsidies on all forms of power, but I'd rather have diversity and not be totally reliant on shal
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            Solar is already way cheaper than nuclear, has been for a few years now. Wind, geothermal and hydro even more so.

            I agree we need diversity, but the massive drain nuclear is placing on the available funding distorts the market. It's so bad that in the UK we have to guarantee well above the normal selling price of electricity for the lifetime of the plant just to get some Chinese guys to build it for us, because no-one here wants to. They know that Scotland's wind and eventually other renewables making it a l

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Mr D from 63 (3395377)

              Solar is already way cheaper than nuclear, has been for a few years now.

              You'll have a hard time backing that claim up with real numbers. Solar doesn't come close when it comes to total cost of producing MWh on an annual basis. Many confuse price with cost, and on top of that forget that pricing is quite artificial due to production credits.

              • > Solar doesn't come close when it comes to total cost of producing MWh on an annual basis

                True, but certainly not as true as it was even a year ago:

                http://www.epelectric.com/files/html/Macho_Springs/Macho_Springs_Notice_of_Proceeding_and_Hearing_12-00386-UT__2_.pdf

                20 yr PPA at 5.79 cents/kWh (see para 2). Very competitive with wind and NG.

        • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

          by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @12:44PM (#47494859)

          In 1988 when the big nuclear three-holer went in near Phoenix, utility ratepayers were aghast at the idea of paying $2 billion apiece for the reactors. Today, we're all thankful now that the plant is the state's lowest cost provider of power.

          Meanwhile, just across the line, the People's Republic of California just paid $2.2 billion for the Ivanpah solar thermal plant, which will generate 0.4 GW compared to our 6 GW, and at much higher operating cost. Ivanpah's cost was also grossly inflated by a slightly less maniacal version of the same useless lawsuits and regulatory delays that plague nuclear construction. The Luddite strategy for any type of energy construction is delay, delay,. delay. As bonding interest steadily ticks upward with time, you can eventually make any project cost too much.

          The problem isn't subsidies. we need to fix our legal system to strip Luddies of the legal standing to interfere with vital infrastructure.

    • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

      by Solandri (704621) on Sunday July 20, 2014 @01:51AM (#47492531)

      It's good to see the EPA finally considering relaxing some of its uptight, business-hostile regulations. No wonder the US is losing ground to the developing world when for a few decades it has pushed this regulatory regime that holds industry back and has really harmed wider adoption of nuclear energy.

      You're trying to be sarcastic, but your words are quite literally true. 0.25 mSv is [xkcd.com]:

      • 12x the radiation you get from a chest x-ray
      • 6x the radiation you get from a 5 hour airliner flight
      • 3.5x the radiation you get from living in a stone, brick, or concrete house for a year
      • about half the radiation dose from a mammogram
      • an eighth the radiation dose from a head CT scan
      • 1/28th the radiation dose from a chest CT scan

      If the 0.25 mSv limit were applied consistently to other aspects of our lives, we'd ban mammograms and CT scans, limit people to a dozen chest x-rays in a year, restrict pilots and stewardesses to just 30 hours of flight time per year, and severely curtail brick, stone, and concrete as building materials. If the proposal someone made below to reduce the limit to 0.025 mSv were carried out, we'd have to ban air travel and chest x-rays altogether.

      • by sjames (1099)

        We would also have to live in shielded homes and never go outside due to background radiation (global average 24mSv/a)

  • While the EPA is thinking about raising limits on how much radioactive material nuclear power plants can release into the environment there are no limits on what coal plants can release. The radioactive material in coal is considered "naturally occurring" since it was dug out of the ground. However thorium is not naturally occurring radioactive material because it is... also dug out of the ground.

    The federal regulations on radioactive materials and pollution have little relation to reason. This nonsense is holding up research in nuclear power. If our "carbon footprint" is an issue then it does not look to me like the government cares a whole lot. They'll toss money at coal powered "electric" cars but not allow a nuclear power plant to get built in four decades.

    What happens to our carbon footprint with all those electric cars powered from coal and natural gas? Oh, we power our cars from wind and solar? That's laughable. No one has yet made a solar panel that can make a profit. Wind power might make a profit but it relies on natural gas turbines to make up for when the wind does not blow. Wind power actually increases carbon output because instead of using efficient boilers they have to use inefficient turbines.

    Getting back to the radiation aspect the burning of natural gas releases radon into the air. Is there any regulations on that? No, because that is "naturally occurring", as if because it's "natural" radiation it does us no harm. What we need to do is hold up fossil fuels to the same standard as nuclear power. We'd switch over to nuclear power on that aspect alone.

    All power sources release radiation into the environment. We're disturbing the earth as we dig for coal, uranium, silicon, or hydro electric basins. Even bio-fuels release radiation because we dig up the earth to plant the crops.

    Nuclear power has the lowest carbon footprint of any power source we know of. Solar and wind cannot even compete because of all the concrete needed to hold up the structures. I'd suspect that if anyone did an honest assessment of the radiation released then it'd probably do better than the rest there as well.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @10:44PM (#47491867) Journal
      I am not impressed with the state of coal fired emissions regulation (sulfur compounds are down; but fly ash certainly isn't something that cures what ails you, and the general 'Eh, old stuff just gets grandfathered because we can't fight the incumbents' model of regulation is broken); but your snarking about the poor reactors being treated as unnatural is rather flawed.

      The further your coal gets from being pure carbon, the more dire some of the potential aerosolized-and-spread-hither-and-yon materials are; but the process is just conventional chemistry, you aren't going to emit anything you didn't dig up(except the added oxygen). A nuclear reactor; shockingly enough, is not subject to this limitation, and fairly aggressively shoves assorted fissionables down the decay chain.

      Aside from the one (known) incident at Oklo, the crust isn't seeing much in the way of activity above background decay rates, and it follows that anything with a short half life is going to be extremely scarce. Something that's been dug up, concentrated, and carefully stewed in its own neutrons, by contrast, will have a very different collection of isotopes, some remarkably scarce anywhere else.

      This doesn't mean that coal power is good for you, or restricted in what it contributes to our air supply; because that is very unlikely; but it's just silly to pretend that reactor products are isotopically similar to what you'll find in the ground; the 'power' in 'nuclear power' is only there because they aren't.
      • by blindseer (891256)

        Yes, all kinds of interesting things can come from nuclear fission. Some of them very valuable precisely because of their interesting radioactive properties.

        What's happening here is that the EPA is considering lifting some of the restrictions on some of the radioactive gasses that are difficult to contain and have half lives that are too short or too long to radiate humans in any statistically significant manner. They are not considering changes to the radioactive solids, the stuff that can affect human h

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Point is that nothing exists in a vacuum, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. We can develop nuclear power and reap the rewards it offers, we can keep digging up coal, or we can revert to a nearly cave man existence of wind and solar power.

          Are you an idiot or a liar? There's no third way.

      • by sjames (1099)

        The key stat though is the radiation released. Coal plants release far more than nuclear plants. It really is silly to treat that emission with less care than emissions from a nuclear plant.

    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      While the EPA is thinking about raising limits on how much radioactive material nuclear power plants can release into the environment there are no limits on what coal plants can release.

      "But Teacher! Billy is punching people, so why can't I punch people?!?"

      If you have empirical data to present on the risk of the current levels of radiation exposure measured in QALYs [wikipedia.org], and an argument for adjusting the current regulated level, present it. But saying that we should ease our regulation on this form of harm, mer

    • Coal ash is old soil. It screens radiation just as much as soil. There is no increase in radiation. In fact, dilution of carbon-14 in the atmosphere (and thus food) leads to reduced radiation exposure as a result of fossil fuel use.
      • by Chas (5144)

        Howsabout a few facts to support that assumption.

        • by mdsolar (1045926)
          Compare the uranium content of coal ash and low carbon soil. It's the same. It is well known that carbon-14 comes from thermal neutron absorption by nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. Isolating carbon from the atmosphere causes the fraction of carbon-14 to fall. This is how radiocarbon dating works. Diluting the atmospheric carbon with fossil carbon reduces the carbon-14 content of food and thus our internal radiation load.
          • by Chas (5144)

            I said "facts". Not you simply spouting words.
            Something that actually supports what you're saying.

            And how you jumped from dumping uranium and thorium into the atmosphere to "Carbon-14", I dunno.

  • These scientific studies are on the effects of tritium on living beings.

    Some of them show that Triated water's effect is biologically mutagenic *because* it's a low energy emitter and it's characteristics makes readily absorbed by surrounding cells. The available evidence from studies conducted journal a list of effects. From those works;

    Tritium can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through skin. Eating food containing 3H can be even more damaging than drinking 3H bound in water. Consequently, an estim

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The main thrust of relaxing is for Japan.
      Then you have the sites in the USA that have got new paper work to run for decades more.
      The "unusual event" reports on early warning alarm shuts downs at sites makes the US news over the past few years.
      Then you have the US storage site clean ups.
      Best to change national standards, stop funding quality US epidemiology, stop the tiny gov grants for books and books chapters on cancer clusters.
      Then over time the next generations of top medical staff will be very tame
      • by MrKaos (858439)

        The main thrust of relaxing is for Japan.

        Then you have the sites in the USA that have got new paper work to run for decades more.

        The "unusual event" reports on early warning alarm shuts downs at sites makes the US news over the past few years.

        Then you have the US storage site clean ups.

        A plethora of effluents.

        Best to change national standards, stop funding quality US epidemiology, stop the tiny gov grants for books and books chapters on cancer clusters.

        If you can't fix the problem, fiddle the figur

    • by Chas (5144)

      Great. That's Tritium (Hydrogen 3). When combined with oxygen it produces so-called "heavy water" T2O. Which means your body treats it like water. And it can pretty much go anywhere good old H2O can in your system. So yeah, with that kind of intimate exposure in your system, it can do lots and lots of potential damage.

  • "Johns Hopkins scientists report that rats exposed to high-energy particles, simulating conditions astronauts would face on a long-term deep space mission, show lapses in attention and slower reaction times, even when the radiation exposure is in extremely low dose ranges. The cognitive impairments — which affected a large subset, but far from all, of the animals — appear to be linked to protein changes in the brain, the scientists say." http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org... [hopkinsmedicine.org]
  • Standards for small reactors should be stronger to avoid greater exposure for the public. Replacing one large reactor with fifty smaller reactors increases public exposure by a factor of fifty unless the standard is strengthened by a factor of fifty for the small reactors.
  • Part of the EPA's instructions are to consider the costs of regulations. Since new reactors are supposed to be safer, it should be free of cost to tighten regulations. This would be the time to tighten rather than loosen regulations.

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