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EPA Makes a Rad Decision 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the appropriate-dose-of-overreaction dept.
New submitter QuantumPion writes "The Environmental Protection Agency released draft guidelines last month that could significantly relax radiation hazard standards in the case of a radiological event in the United States by using risk-based decisions. The goal is to have limits that make sense in an emergency that are different from the limits in day-to-day life. From the article: 'Currently, the only guidance are the extremely strict standards that apply for EPA Superfund sites and nuclear plant decommissioning, which are as low as 0.010–0.025 rem/year, far below the natural background levels in the U.S. of 0.300 rem/year, and even well below the average amount of radioactive materials that Americans eat each year. And these guidelines aren’t really different from the 1992 PAG, except in the area of long-term cleanup standards and, perhaps, standards for resettlement. What’s the big deal here? As radworkers, we’re allowed to get 5 rem/year. 2 rem/year doesn’t rate a second thought. ... No one has ever been harmed by 5 rem/year, so setting emergency levels at 2 rem/year is pretty mild and more than reasonable. ... Think of it this way. The situations covered by these new guidelines are similar to someone dying of thirst who has the chance to drink fresh water having 2,000 pCi per gallon of radium in it. While the safe drinking water levels are 20 pCi/gal for Ra, 2,000 pCi/gal is of no threat, especially if you’re going to die from imminent dehydration. Of course, a bag of potato chips has 3,500 picocuries, so go figure.'"
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EPA Makes a Rad Decision

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  • It's All Relative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @06:56PM (#43788457) Homepage

    "We're changing the standards so you can't sue us immediately after the disaster. But if you get cancer 30 years down the line, we and our money will be long gone and no longer giving a darn in Pattaya Beach, Thailand."

  • Re: Well duh! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @07:49PM (#43788911)

    The fact that there is naturally occurring radioactivity does not mean it is safe to add more. Have a look at studies of increased mortality in nuclear workers from cancer, extra rads do matter and the public should not be exposed. Also, one needs to be very cautious in equating external dose with ingested dose, for some isotopes it may have similar impacts but breathing in plutonium for example is ill advised.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:12PM (#43789099)

    "We're changing the standards so you can't sue us immediately after the disaster. But if you get cancer 30 years down the line, we and our money will be long gone and no longer giving a darn in Pattaya Beach, Thailand."

    Okay, I know you're trying to be funny, but let's be serious for a moment: Why shouldn't the EPA try to limit lawsuits? They cost you and me, the taxpayer, a lot of money. It slows down the entire judicial process, and increases the cost of excercising your rights in the judiciary. There's filing fees now, lawyers fees, and every motion and such you file also costs money. This is fine for corporations who can just pass the buck on to their customers, but for Joe Average, commencing or defending against a legal action can easily bankrupt him. Is that fair? Shouldn't he be able to sue people who have legitimately wronged him as well -- or should that be something reserved only for the wealthy? Conversely, if he is on the receiving end... should he be bankrupted defending against an action that ultimately failed? Any contact with the judicial process tends to be highly corrosive to the average person. It is often ruinous, irrespective of the merits of their position.

    Given that, why shouldn't the government try to limit personal injury cases to those where the only evidence of harm won't surface for thirty years? Do you want a legal system that punishes people based on probability, or actuality? If so, thought crime suddenly becomes a lot more justifiable, as well as imprisoning people based on genetic markers, etc.

    But I do acknowledge that statistically, we know that in a given group of say, 100 people, if exposed to X intensity of radiation over Y amount of time, Z of them will develop health problems. We can't say with any confidence which of them will develop health problems, but we can say with confidence how probable it is that at least Z of them will. In a case like this where you know harm has happened but the costs won't be known for a long time, a fine seems like a better way to deal with this than lawsuits, provided the fine is proportional to the actual harm caused, plus whatever punitive damages are justified (was it really an accident, or negligence?).

    In this case, the government should be the plaintiff, not the individual. Conversely, the government should take the money gathered from these fines and put it into a general fund. If and when affected individuals develop health problems consistent with previously-documented radiation exposure, the government pays out of that fund.

    I think this is the most fair method of enacting justice in such a situation -- the companies (or individuals) involved are penalized shortly after the actual accident occurs, so there is financial incentive to prevent it in the future, and no possibility of them profiting from it later, but at the same time recognizing that we may not know for a very long time who was actually harmed, or to what degree.

    From the looks of it, this is more or less what the EPA is trying to do. Of course... such an elegant solution will never survive contact with Congress, but... it's the thought that counts.

  • by mad flyer (589291) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:35PM (#43789247)

    Yes, that where the scumbags can get their money today and weasel out of the consequences later...

  • by nojayuk (567177) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:43PM (#43789297)

    Actually Japan didn't ban bananas. The Forbes writer got it wrong.

    The new tighter limits on food, water etc. set by Japan were for contamination due to cesium-134 and -137, byproducts of fission usually only found in the wild after a reactor goes wrong or from nuclear explosions. The "natural" levels of radiation from potassium, rubidium etc. are already factored in to the safety regs.

    I'm in Japan at the moment, I bought bananas a couple of days ago -- they're a cheap source of energy (and potassium too) since I'm doing a lot of walking around and sightseeing while I'm here.

  • Re: Well duh! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:07PM (#43789443)

    No, it's not an indication of any such thing.

    Bottom line is that some radiation exposure is inevitable and that some more probably isn't going to kill you, the reality is that ionizing radiation is ionizing radiation and that you shouldn't just assume that you can add more just because you haven't been killed by the radiation in bananas.

    What's more, it makes a huge difference if you're prepared for the exposure versus not expecting it. It's normal when working in a nuclear plant to be taking potassium iodide on a regular basis, which isn't something that the general populace is likely to be doing. It's also not typical for the general populace to be wearing protective gear either.

    And lastly, it makes a huge difference what kind of radiation you're dealing with and what the duration of exposure is.

  • Re:Oblig xkcd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lennier (44736) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:32PM (#43789639) Homepage

    Radiation Chart [xkcd.com]

    Unfortunately that chart doesn't work for any kind of ingested radioactive substance, and it's kind of disingenous for Randall to present it as if it's a meaningful comparison. There's plan radiation, and then there's radioactive contamination in dust, liquid or aerosol form, and the second one is the gift that keeps on giving.

    IANAhealthphysicist, but I can read Wikipedia, and I'm pretty sure you get a lot more radiation damage to your cells if you eat or breathe in a radioactive particle than if you sit next to the same number of bequerels on the bench, because your body can incoporate the radioactive emitter directly into your cells for the entire rest of its (maximum of bioactive and radioactive) lifespan, and your skin won't screen out the alpha radiation like it does for an internal source. Iodine-equivalents are pretty nasty since although they have a half-life on the order of days, if they get inside you they dump all that radiation into your thyroid, which is not a good place to have it. Long-term, Radioactive strontium is the worst because it replaces calcium and so binds directly to your bone marrow, which is not good for leukemia. And potassium-equivalents are in the mid range, with a half-life on the order of months to years and they are bioavailable, but not permanently so. As far as we know.

    Oh, and a lot of those last have been dumped into the ocean by Fukushima, and are now inside fish. Do they bioaccumulate up the food chain? We're not really sure, but we'll probably find out. It's a wonderful science experiment!

    tldr: Don't eat, drink or breathe radioactive gunk. It's worse for you than it looks.

  • You Know (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @02:18AM (#43791073)

    You nuclear power nuts would gain a lot more traction if you were more honest. Every time you try to compare ingesting radioactive isotopes of potassium to being exposed to stuff like cesium, you just show yourselves for the ignorant liars that you are. Don't you wonder why decades of campaigning hasn't brought you anywhere closer to your nuclear dreams?

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