, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 518-520

Mortgaging the future: Dumping ethics with nuclear waste

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Abstract

On August 22, 2005 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed new regulations for radiation releases from the planned permanent U.S. nuclear-waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The goal of the new standards is to provide public-health protection for the next million years — even though everyone admits that the radioactive wastes will leak. Regulations now guarantee individual and equal protection against all radiation exposures above the legal limit. Instead E.P.A. recommended different radiation exposure-limits for different time periods. It also recommended using only the arithmetic mean of the dose distribution, to assess regulatory compliance during one time period, but using only the median dose to assess compliance during another period. This piece argues that these two changes — in exposure-limits and in methods of assessing regulatory compliance — have at least four disturbing consequences. The changes would threaten equal protection, ignore the needs of the most vulnerable, allow many fatal exposures, and sanction scientifically flawed dose calculations.