Costs Stop Updates to New Radiation Protection Rules

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By Rebecca Kern

Work has stopped on two rulemakings to better align U.S. radiation protection regulations with international standards due to the high costs of implementing such changes, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The discontinuation of these two uncompleted rulemakings, announced in a Dec. 27 Federal Register notice, is among 150 measures that the commission approved in April to cut costs at the agency to ultimately reduce its budget and streamline programs as part of an ongoing Project Aim initiative.

While the commission formally approved the discontinuation of the rulemakings in April, this is the first time it has notified the public of such changes.

However, Ed Lyman, a senior global security scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the termination of these rulemakings “makes the U.S. look out of step with the rest of the world.”

Could Erode NRC’s Credibility

“It makes it look like we’re basing our regulations on obsolete information,” he told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 27. “I think that’s going to erode the credibility of the NRC internationally if they don’t get their act together and align.”

Meanwhile, Jerry Hiatt, a senior project manager at the nuclear industry association Nuclear Energy Institute and a certified health physicist, said that the existing radiation protection rulemakings at the NRC are adequate and that updates aren’t warranted.

He said he agreed with the NRC’s conclusions. “They found there would be no improvements in safety and what we’re currently doing is protecting the safety of the workers, the public and the environment, and this would have just been a very, very expensive process to engage,” he told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 27.

Radiation Protection Rulemakings

“The current NRC regulatory framework continues to provide adequate protection of the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment,” the NRC explained as to why it is stopping work on an update to the radiation protection regulation for nuclear plant workers and other NRC-regulated facilities (RIN:3150-AJ29).

The rulemaking effort, started by staff in 2008, would have updated NRC’s radiation protection standards to align with international standards, primarily with respect to radiation dose assessment methodology and terminology. The staff had previously recommended that the commission reduce the total dose exposure from 50 millisieverts per year to 20 millisieverts per year, but the commission disapproved of this recommendation and the elimination of traditional or “English " dose units in favor of the International System units used by other countries.

The commission’s decision not to lower its dose exposures to those of the rest of the world is the equivalent to “throwing out one of the most significant changes to get the U.S. in step with the rest of the world,” Lyman said.

The NRC also decided to stop work on a second rulemaking (RIN:3150-AJ38) to bring U.S. standards in line with international standards with respect to radioactive effluents (liquid waste) from nuclear reactor sites.

Called Burdensome

The NRC stopped work on this rulemaking due to its finding of a significant burden on industry to implement the changes. It added that the changes are unlikely to be cost-effective and offer little to no improvements in the health and safety of workers, the public or the environment.

Lyman, however, said since the NRC terminated the rulemakings prematurely, it couldn’t justify its conclusion that it wouldn’t have a significant impact on health and safety or that it wouldn’t have been cost effective.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington, D.C., at rKern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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