Radioactive Lessons Learned

by Art Myatt, SEMG Chair and Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 board member.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently published their proposed drinking water “Protective Action Guide (PAG) for Radiological Incidents.”
The purpose, according to them. is “to guide planning and decision-making efforts by local and state officials” in response to “a large-scale emergency.” They further say this would apply for “any radiation incident, such as spills of radioactive material, the detonation of a radiological dispersion device (RDD) or “dirty bomb,” or an accident at a nuclear power plant.”

The reason for this new standard is given as “lessons learned from actual radiological emergencies, including the Fukushima nuclear power plant.” In Japan, 5 years of effort have demonstrated it is impossible to clean up the areas contaminated by fallout to anything like a safe condition. EPA obviously has learned the wrong lessons; drastically lowering standards instead of increasing efforts to prevent similar contamination.
What are their standards? Well, they will be aiming for “500 mrem projected dose, for one year, to the general population.” Explaining what this means will get confusing. A “rem,” or “Roentgen Equivalent [for] Man,” is a calculated unit which attempts to compare different radioactive elements to whole-body radiation such as an x-ray, in terms of their effect on human health.
If you want to get into the details of what exactly a “rem” is, you might start with the Wikipedia article –
We would be wrong to assume that all the calculations have been done accurately. The current standard for safe drinking water allows a maximum dose of 4 mrem (0.004 rem) per year. The 500 mrem per year new standard, in other words, is 125 times the safe limit for drinking water. The 4 mrem dose was based on old calculations, while current research shows radionuclides in drinking water are significantly more harmful than previously believed.
Diane D’Arrigo, an expert on the staff of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said “under these proposals, people would be forced to get the radiation equivalent of a chest X-ray 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for up to several years, with no medical benefit or informed consent, just from drinking water. This is immoral.”
Once an area is contaminated with long-lived radioactive isotopes, it will not be safe in several lifetimes. This is clearly demonstrated in the global disaster zones of Chernobyl and Fukushima. In the United States, it’s demonstrated on a smaller scale at Hanford, Three Mile Island, Fermi 1 in Michigan, and literally hundreds of other sites that were used for nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
We should learn from all these examples that nuclear operations create areas hostile to life that cannot be fixed, and that the way to avoid creating these areas is to avoid nuclear operations. Instead, the people in charge of our government, now working through the agency that is supposed to protect our environment, want us to accept these areas regardless of contamination hundreds or thousands of times more than safe levels.
Worse, the new unsafe standards are part of a long-term pattern. When the EPA was created over 40 years ago, there was reason to expect it might actually protect us from degradation of the environment. Instead, it has steadily been transformed into the Energy (industry) Protection Agency. Under the Bush Administration, the oil and gas industry was exempted from complying with the standards for clean air and clean water. Now, the Obama Administration is doing the equivalent for the nuclear industry.
Simply writing to the EPA or bringing it up with your Congressional representative can’t hurt, but reversing the long-term pattern will take a substantial change in what the public demands from our government.
This article appeared in the December 2016 edition of “The Activist,” a publication of the Southeast Michigan Group of the Sierra Club.

Author: Art Myatt

Retired engineer and environmentally aware activist with Green Party of Michigan, Sierra Club and Alliance to Halt Fermi 3.

One thought on “Radioactive Lessons Learned”

  1. From NIRS:

    NUCLEAR INFORMATION AND RESOURCE SERVICE • 6930 Carroll Ave., Ste. 340 • Takoma Park, MD, 20912 • (301) 270-6477 •

    November 21, 2016

    Dear Friend,

    In July, thousands of us took action to stop dangerous new radiation guidance for drinking water. The EPA refused to listen, and now this guidance could be approved anytime–unless we act now!

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy is on the verge of approving radiation levels hundreds and thousands of times higher than currently allowed in drinking water and at cleaned-up Superfund sites. These mis-named “Protective” Action Guides for Drinking Water (Water PAGs) dramatically INCREASE allowable radioactivity in water. Enormous levels of invisible but deadly radioactive contamination would be permitted in drinking water for weeks, months or even years after a nuclear accident or “incident.” The PAGs are not for the immediate phase after a radioactive release but the next phase–which could last for years–when local residents may return home to contaminated water and not know the danger.

    Take action now: Protect drinking water from dangerous radiation levels!

    There are two quick actions to take today:

    Tell your EPA Regional Administrator (see map [not shown here] and list below) to ask EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy why she is raising radiation levels allowed in drinking water.

    Send a message to Administrator McCarthy yourself asking her not to approve these dangerous radiation levels in drinking water.

    We have stopped PAGs like these from being approved before–and we can do it again. EPA insiders attempted to push these dangerous guides through in the waning days of the Bush administration, and public pressure like this got the agency to pull them back. Now we have to do it again!

    Thanks for all you do!

    Diane D’Arrigo
    Radioactive Waste Project Director

    More Information
    The PAGs protect the polluters from liability, not the public from radiation. CHECK out this NBC4 News Story.
    These PAGs are a bad legacy. Approving them now is a deceptive way to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund cleanup levels, and EPA’s history of limiting the allowable risk of cancer to 1 in a million people exposed (or at most 1 in 10,000 in worst-case scenarios).
    The PAGs don’t just affect water!
    They markedly relax long-term cleanup standards.
    They set very high and outdated radiation levels allowable in food.
    They eliminate requirements to evacuate people vulnterable to high radiation doses to the thyroid and skin.
    They eliminate limits on lifetime whole body radiation exposures.
    And they recommend dumping radioactive waste in municipal garbage dumps not designed for such waste.

    Outrageously, EPA is expanding the kinds of radioactive ‘incidents’ that would be allowed to give off these dangerously high levels and doses. PAGs originally applied to huge nuclear disasters like the nuclear power meltdowns at Fukushima or a dirty bomb BUT NOW they could ALSO apply to less dramatic releases from nuclear power reactors or radio-pharmaceutical spills, nuclear transport accidents, fires or any radioactive “incident” that “warrant[s] consideration of protective action.”


    Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding
    (617) 918-1010;

    Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck
    (212) 637-5000

    Region 3 Administrator Cecil Rodrigues
    (215) 814-2683

    Region 4 Administrator Heather McTeer Toney
    (404) 562-9900

    Region 5 Acting Administrator Robert A. Kaplan
    (312) 886-3000

    Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry
    (214) 665-2100

    Region 7 Administrator Mark Hague
    (913) 551-7006

    Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath
    (303) 312-6532

    Region 9 Acting Administrator Alexis Strauss
    (415) 947-8000

    Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran
    (206) 553-1234

    For more info, contact Diane D’Arrigo at NIRS: or 301-270-6477
    Please note: NIRS never sells, rents, trades, or otherwise makes our e-mail lists available to other organizations or individuals for any reason.


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