By John Laforge
Work has been halted on two rulemaking projects that would have reduced the amount of radiation the government permits workers and the public to be exposed to without their consent. The improved limits would have been in line with internationally accepted standards, Bloomberg BNA reports. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission announcement says stopping the process of setting stricter radiation exposure limits was “due to the high costs of implementing such changes.” The purpose of the NRC is to protect public and nuclear worker health and safety, but this time it’s just saving money for the nuclear industry.
The cancellation of two unfinished and long-overdue precautionary improvements, noted in the Dec. 27 Federal Register, came as a shock to nuclear industry watchdogs who have campaigned for increased radiation protection since 1990. That year, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommended that radiation industry worker exposures be reduced by three-fifths, from 50 milliSieverts per year to 20 milliSieverts per year. (A milliSieverts is a measure of the body’s absorption of radiation.) The recommendation has never adopted by the United States. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, ICRP sets standards used worldwide as the basis for radiological protection, working to reduce cancer and other diseases caused by radiation exposure.
Ed Lyman, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA the termination of these projects “makes the US look out of step with the rest of the world. It makes it look like we’re basing our regulations on obsolete information.” Jerry Hiatt, with the industry lobbying group Nuclear Energy Institute, was relieved by the NRC move telling Bloomberg that existing rules were adequate, and that it’s unnecessary to reduce currently permitted exposures.
The NRC also decided to stop work on a second rulemaking which would have brought the US in line with international rules regarding daily releases of radioactive waste water from nuclear reactors. By way of explanation, the NRC said, its current standard “continues to provide adequate protection of the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.”
Over the last 70 years, permitted radiation exposure limits for workers and the public have dramatically decreased as science has come to better understand the toxic and cancer-causing properties of low doses.
But today, when the international standard dose limit is less than half what our own government allows, it’s the radiation industry shareholders that are being protected by the NRC, not public health and safety.