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Raising the EPA Radiation Limit Will Save Thousands of Lives and Billions of Dollars

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is raising the
radiation threat level
by a factor of 350. That may sound
unbelievable but it is assuredly a good thing: The previous limits
were far lower than science justified and caused hundreds of
billions of dollars of economic loss to America and the world.

The trigger for the change was the government recognizing the
ramifications of two things. The first is the reality of nuclear
terrorism. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has recently
insisted that the EPA
establish realistic limits
in accordance with the latest
science. Under the old limits, a tiny “dirty bomb” explosion in an
American city would have meant evacuating hundreds of thousands of

The second is Fukushima. After the catastrophic meltdown at the
Japanese nuclear power plant in 2011, some 130,000 people were
forcibly removed
from their homes
in accordance with strict radiation standards.
This resulted in the unnecessary and unfortunate deaths of some
1600 elderly and ill persons. Yet no residents died—or even became
ill—from the radiation. Even so, Japan closed down
48 nuclear plants
and Germany announced it would close all of
its plants. The
cost to their citizenry
in higher electricity prices—and higher
carbon emissions—is staggering.

The cost to U.S. citizens is staggering as well. Ultra-low
limits have delayed and prevented the construction of new nuclear
power plants, added billions to the cost of refurbishing old
reactors and Superfund clean-up sites, scared Nevada residents into
opposing the opening of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage
facilities, and triggered panic whenever there has been a slight
increase in radiation almost anywhere for any reason. One remembers
the Three Mile Island nuclear leaks, where residents were exposed
to less radiation than they got from the granite building blocks at
the Senate hearing room when they testified.

Fortunately, the EPA is making changes that acknowledge the
shortcomings of ultra-low radiation limits. The
EPA has now asked for public comment on changing its standards

for nuclear power plants.  The deadline was June

Further, in Florida, the
EPA has given up on enforcing
a very expensive radiation
cleanup under the old rules. This is a tremendous move that has
nevertheless come under attack from environmental extremists who
promised to resist the new rules even if “health effects prove
reliable.” Some 100 watchdog groups have joined the attack.

Much of the reason for the EPA’s prior low exposure fears comes
from a theory in computer models that the cancer risk is directly
proportional to the dose of radiation. This is untrue below the 10
REM threshold of exposure as is
well detailed in a Forbes article.
 Yet the
theory, called LNT (linear
no-threshold model
), has done untold damage to America.
(Further explanation and links are available in my earlier article

Terrorism and Radiation.
) The EPA change specifically refers to
one time events, although its historic 15 millirem limit barely
distinguished between short and long term exposure. Nuclear workers
with prolonged exposure face a different risk. The first ICRP
(International Commission on Radiological Protection) recommended a
“tolerance dose” of no more than 70 REM per year (0.2 roentgen per
day), but more research needs to be done in this area, e.g. a 40
hour work week of exposure compared to continuous exposure. EPA’s
limit was a maximum 5 REM over a full year.

The new nuclear limits should prompt the EPA to modify the
extreme 15-25 millirem limits in other areas under its
jurisdiction. Specifically, these should include allowing new
nuclear electric plants to follow the same rules. Clean-up
of past nuclear waste disposal sites
would be another area of
multi-billion dollar savings. The difference in cost is
astronomical. Southern California Edison has now shut down its San
Onofre nuclear plant because of the high cost of replacing steam
generators. Higher radiation limits might make the repairs
economically viable. The Yucca Mountain storage site costs should
be recalculated from the past 15 millirem limit using the new risk
numbers. However, the EPA has also specifically
stated that the new guide
 “will not affect the agency’s
Superfund authorities, existing cleanup regulations or current
health and safety standards.” Currently the EPA’s
Superfund clean up standards
are based upon a risk factor of 1
person in 10,000 possibly developing cancer under LNT models. LNT
theory does not distinguish between one-time exposure and
continuous exposure.

Then there is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Using the same
old EPA limits, it fanned the flames of panic in Japan by
urging Americans up to 50 miles away
to flee Fukushima. It
should also update its risk analyses.

What’s missing now are some reliable analyses of the billions of
dollars in savings that will result from using the new limits. In
the nuclear weapons programs, the new limits should be analyzed and
new safety rules put in place. Canadian nuclear physicist
Jerry Cuttler
, to whom I am indebted for much of the above
information, suggests that the ALARA limits (as low as reasonably
achievable) should be changed to AHARS (as high as reasonably

Equally important, the EPA change brings attention to the issue
that economic costs can be considered in its rulings. Historically,
EPA denies this premise based upon its original mandate, which does
not call on the agency to consider economic costs, it claims. The
EPA has won in court with this argument. Most recently,
Politico reported
 that “a three-judge panel
of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA’s
 known as MATS, denying challenges from states,
utilities and industry groups which argued the rules came out of a
flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on
power producers that will force dozens of power plants to close
down.” The industry argued that this decision would substantially
raise electricity rates for consumers in much of the nation. EPA
decisions are based on the same linear no-threshold models that any
minimal exposure will cause cancer or asthma among some proportion
of the population. But under this theory, even tiny amounts of
are a threat
to some human beings. As science advances to allow
measuring parts per billion or even per trillion, EPA has proceeded
to continuously tighten its limits.

Other skeleton in the EPA’s closet are environmental limits
caused by its policy of “chasing the last molecule.” If EPA could
be forced to modify its radiations limits, what about its other
extremes? Take sulfur, for example. Its prevalence has already been
reduced by 90 percent. Still, using its now discredited LNT theory,
EPA is has ordered refiners to eliminate the last 10 percent. This
add between 6 and 9 cents per gallon to the cost of

There is another major implication. Many if not most of the
EPA’s other limits on pollutants and carcinogens are also deduced
from the faulty LNT theory. Eliminating 90 percent of some chemical
or dust is often easily accomplished, however, eliminating the last
10 percent can cost billions more than the first 90 percent. For
example, a
Wall Street Journal report on ozone
explains that new
EPA limits reducing ozone from today’s 75 parts per billion to 60
to 70 ppb would cost industry some $90 billion, according to the
EPA itself. These are the costs that many industries are howling
about and a real reason that Americans’ standard of living has
stopped increasing. Much analysis, beyond the scope of this report,
needs to be researched for dozens of other excessive limits imposed
by Washington, D.C.

The yearly
cost of unnecessary EPA regulations
is in the many hundreds of
billions of dollars, reducing wages and hurting the world’s
standard of living. And yet these positive modifications are under
severe attack from green extremists. Rather than fighting sensible
and cost-saving reforms, they should help rescue the legitimate
environmental movement from far-left activists whose hysterical
opposition to logical standards truly threatens world

Mr. Utley is publisher of The American Conservative. He has
written widely on energy, radiation, and civil defense. He was a
foreign correspondent in Latin America for Knight Ridder newspapers
and, for 17 years, a contract commentator for the Voice of


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