Newly proposed Federal guidelines could push the acceptable mortality rate for drinking radioactive water in San Diego County to more than 330,000 radiation deaths from cancer over a 70-year period. The death rates would apply to individuals who drink the water continuously over a one-year period. The new regulations are being proposed as an answer to the nuclear industry’s inability to safely store nuclear waste at radioactive power plants, and to prepare for the possibility of a major radioactive release from an operating power plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to increase the allowable “safe” levels of radiation in your drinking water by redefining what is safe in what it calls “PAGs” or “Protective Action Guides.” Government agencies rely on the EPA’s PAGs to determine “safe” levels of radiation.
Acceptable radiation in drinking water could increase a thousand-fold
If EPA’s new PAGs are approved, the MCL or “Maximum Contaminant Level” of allowable radiation in your drinking water could increase by hundreds and perhaps even thousands of times the currently allowable levels. EPA documents received by PEER.org under the Freedom of Information Act show that the proposed drinking water standards could increase radiation levels by a factor of one-thousand, and in two cases by up to one-million times the currently acceptable MCL (read the PEER FOIA documents here).
The EPA’s draft Protective Action Guidelines will apply to drinking water tainted by large nuclear waste dump sites such as the proposed high-level radioactive dump on the beach at SONGS, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, as well as EPA SuperFund cleanup sites.
Acceptable death rates: old vs. new standards
Historically, the EPA has limited the allowable risk of cancer deaths to 1 case of cancer per 10,000 people over a 70-year period. What this means is that a person who drinks radioactive water for one year has a one-in-ten thousand chance of getting cancer in the next 70-years. To put that in perspective, San Diego County has 3.3 million people, so the EPA’s currently acceptable death rate is equal to 33o cancer deaths. In a worst case scenario, the new PAGs could potentially permit 330,000 cancer deaths in drinking water tainted by nuclear waste.
Why drinking water?
Nuclear waste is toxic to human life for millions of years, and most nuclear power plants are located near rivers and freshwater aquifers. Each nuclear power plant must maintain millions of pounds of deadly radioactive waste on site in perpetuity until the government finds a way to dispose of it. It is a big problem because many nuclear waste containers are only guaranteed to last 20 years.
A financial boon to the nuclear waste industry
The bottom line is that revisions to the existing PAGs are little more than a handout to the nuclear industry, which is desperate to limit its liability from inevitable nuclear waste leaks, explosions, and other potential radiation disasters at America’s 102 remaining nuclear power plants. The PAGs are designed by the nuclear industry protect the polluters from liability. Ultimately, they could be used by polluters to dodge the Safe Drinking Water Act, and to tamp down public panic in the event of a large scale nuclear disaster.
You can read Public Watchdogs’ comments to the Environmental Protection Agency here.