It seems that McCarthy is the right person for the nuclear industry. It is indeed a critical time considering the shape of many of America’s nuclear reactors: aging and prone to accidents and leaks. Loosening the limits allows more radiation to be let loose in the environment without being considered dangerous.
This sets the stage for astronomical radiation limits to be used not only in emergencies in case of nuclear war or terrorism, but in all radiological “incidents” across America. All that is needed to make that change is a future updated footnote in the EPA PAG.
“If this typifies the environmental leadership we can expect from Ms. McCarthy, then EPA is in for a long, dirty slog,” said Ruch.
NUCLEAR NATIONAL PARK
The new EPA PAG also opens the door open for the huge radiation level hikes to be implemented at contaminated sites across the country. That could include such infamously polluted places as the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, where America’s worst partial nuclear reactor meltdown occurred. The site is now the subject of an intense greenwashing and astroturfing campaign by polluter and community collaborators. Despite astronomical levels of radiation, the former Rocketdyne site could be declared clean tomorrow using these new EPA PAG numbers.
Judging from the EPA’s egregious behavior at the SSFL since our reporting on the facility began in 1998, we have little doubt that the agency will continue to use and abuse any rule or regulation to enable the polluters to escape fully remediation the site.
But federal chicanery and bait and switches can’t escape the all too real result: huge hikes in radiation limits would result in needless casualties should any number of nuclear-related scenarios unfold.
Places like SSFL could be released as parkland without further cleanup, a scenario that would please the responsible polluting parties – DOE, NASA and lab owner Boeing – already emboldened by EPA blatant waste of $41.5 million evaluating SSFL for radiation then subverting its own findings to greatly lessen the amount of hot land to be remediated. The polluters and government agencies charged with regulating their toxic contamination are working closely together to insure that no full and proper cleanup of the site will take place as we exposed in Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover.
“EPA is statutorily mandated to produce the PAGs and other radiation guidance for the rest of the federal family and historically has viewed DOE and NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] as not sufficiently protective in radiation matters,” Hirsch said. “The PAG now abdicates EPA’s responsibility to come up with guidance and instead references almost exclusively documents from DOE [Department of Energy] that EPA has historically opposed. For example, it now directs the use of DOE’s Operational Guidance document which uses cleanup concentrations hundreds of thousands of times higher than EPA’s official concentrations.”
The radical changes are a far cry from the 1991 EPA PAG’s admonitions to put public safety first over economic profits. “PAGs should not be higher than justified on the basis of optimization of cost and the collective risk of effects on health,” the 274 page document reads. “That is, any reduction of risk to public health achievable at acceptable cost should be carried out.”
The 2013 draft EPA PAG trims down to 86 pages largely because it foists off specific limit levels on radionuclides on other nuclear industry-influenced figures. The hugely inflated acceptable limits are all part of what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman calls “the new normal.”
“For example, I’m sure that as the U.S. industry considers the question of filtered containment venting and other filtration strategies, you will benefit from the collective years of experience other countries have with this technology,” said NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington, D.C. May 14. “One critical aspect of the ‘new normal’ is that public interest in nuclear power, whether positive or negative, remains heightened. Where certain technology is in place in some countries and not others, both the public and our elected leaders are naturally predisposed to make comparisons.”
Those comparisons include the fact that the NRC doesn’t require American reactors to have filters on their containment domes to remove radionuclides released into the environment in emergency situations like the one in Japan when hydrogen gas buildup blew one reactor to smithereens. Instead, it’s voluntary, as Macfarlane said.
The point of having PAGs is supposedly to deal with all manner of nuclear emergency including attack and accident. EPA PAG instructions include recommendations on when to evacuate an area, shelter in place and when and if to take potassium iodide (KI) pills in case of extreme Iodine-131 exposure.
The emergency rad levels are supposed to give first responders some sort of reference with what level of threat they are dealing. But even that role is muddled in the document referring to other agencies and their standards which aren’t included in the PAG.
“PAGs do not establish an acceptable level of risk for normal, nonemergency conditions, nor do they represent the boundary between safe and unsafe conditions,” the EPA report reads. “The PAGs are not legally binding regulations or standards and do not supersede any environmental laws.”
Then what would be the point of such guidelines other than to render any recommendations mute even if they could be found in the draft EPA PAG? They are nowhere to be found. It is a first responder’s nightmare when it comes to determining safe levels of radiation in an emergency situation.
NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS
The new EPA PAG is solidly an Obama Administration endeavor, eclipsing the efforts of the previous Republican executive branch. Federal authorities now envision an environment where the needs of the companies and government entities responsible for radiologically contaminated sites across the country supersede those of the population in general. Anybody who objects will be painted as a NIMBY who just can’t handle radiation like a real man.
EPA Administrator nominee Sullivan may have made a safe bet that Americans won’t see the dangers of sky high radiation standards or even care. Public unawareness and apathy over the ongoing Fukushima triple meltdowns are strong arguments for that bet.
No one wants to think that the government, on any level, would choose to lie to the American public in a nuclear emergency or about a radioactively contaminated site. But it has happened repeatedly. Now, no one has to lie. The new limits are so high that signaling the all-clear will be much easier.
The Obama Administration has introduced a policy shift that fundamentally removes established radiation protections for the American people. That the President is taking this extraordinary step shouldn’t be a surprise to environmental policy watchdogs.
Obama’s EPA has failed to monitor for Fukushima radiation in the Pacific even when there has been incontrovertible evidence of the irreparable harm the triple meltdowns are doing to the ocean. EPA pulled RadNet mobile radiation detection systems offline across America just months after the ongoing calamity began saying they weren’t needed. Today more than half of the Fukushima fallout-detecting beta detectors aren’t functioning in the 123 cities that RadNet monitors.
The Administration has little to worry about though because it knows that the country is filled with willing victims, people determined to dismiss the nuclear threat from foreign and domestic sources. It witnessed the laissez-faire reaction of Americans to the disaster in Fukushima. It knows that it can count on the media to treat the triple meltdowns as only a Japanese problem despite the reality that American water are just 5,000 miles away at the receiving end of the Kuroshio Current.
THE PERFECT CRIME
The dearth of media coverage of one of the greatest ongoing environmental disasters in history belies how thin mainstream media’s investigative ranks have become. Few newspapers have the resources or scientific expertise to even tackle such a complicated subject especially when it can be fobbed off as just politically motivated anti-nuclear hysteria.
What better way to control the literal fallout of a nuclear disaster in America than to have one of the few highly respected government agencies, EPA, give the all-clear when it isn’t all clear at all? What better way to keep people calm and willing to productively exist in an environment so hot that it increases the odds of deadly cancers thousands of times? What better way to sneak it into the EPA’s go-to radiological disaster guide than in obscure and complex footnotes? Who better to implement it than the person who oversaw its creation, now Obama’s EPA chief choice?
It is the perfect crime because it hasn’t even happened yet, but the future victims have already signaled their consent when the terrible crisis comes. America’s aging 103 nuclear reactors haven’t melted down or been destroyed in a tornado, hurricane, flood or earthquake. No terrorist has set off a dirty bomb or destroyed a lightly-defended and protected spent fuel pool, some as close as mere yards from where anyone with a rocket launcher could attack.
These quiet and hard to comprehend sleights of hand are akin to taking a police officer’s bulletproof vest away during a gun battle, stripping a fireman of his protective suit in case of conflagration or cutting the cords to the parachute of a pilot jumping from a nose-diving plane. And when it happens, and happens repeatedly under countless scenarios in a country awash in nuclear materials and radioactive waste, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gina McCarthy will be assuring Americans that it’s all okay because the EPA says so.
The passage of the EPA’s draft Protective Action Guide will only serve to endanger Americans needlessly. To protect family, friends and community in the face of this bureaucratic betrayal, folks are going to have to depend on trusted sources and themselves to know what the real situation is and what to do about it. Our lives will depend on it.
* The EPA has extended the comment period to September 16, 2013. See http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0268-0071