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The NRC Considers Amending Radioactive Release Regulations

Tanya E. Hood
Project Manager
Office of New Reactors

Part of the NRC’s mission includes making sure nuclear power plants control and monitor the very small amounts of radioactive material that might be released during normal operations. Filtering and otherwise maintaining a reactor’s cooling water can create radioactive gases and liquids. The amounts generated and released vary depending on a reactor’s design and overall performance. The primary regulations for radioactive emissions (also called radioactive effluents) from commercial nuclear power plants are in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I.

These rules are designed to keep normal airborne or liquid releases low enough that any public radiation dose would be a minute fraction of the dose from natural background radiation. Appendix I also requires U.S. nuclear power plants to further reduce potential doses as much as reasonably possible. This set of regulations includes requirements for plants to regularly sample their nearby environments.  The plant’s samples of air, water, milk, soil, vegetation, sediment and fish come from the property line, on-site, and from nearby towns.

quoteIn 2007, the International Commission on Radiological Protection published recommendations that account for updated scientific understanding of the way to calculate radiation doses. For the past few years we’ve been considering amending the NRC’s radiation protection regulations. We’ve talked with public interest groups, other federal and state agencies and the industries or individuals we regulate on the possibility.

The NRC’s Commissioners gave the staff direction about potentially amending these regulations in December 2012. The Commission told the staff to begin developing the regulatory basis for revising the NRC’s radiation protection regulations in 10 CFR Part 20 and regulations for radioactive effluents from commercial nuclear power plants in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I “to align with the most recent methodology and terminology [in the ICRP 2007 recommendations] for dose assessment.”

The NRC just held a meeting soliciting feedback on the development of a draft regulatory basis for updating 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I in Savannah, Ga., on June 27, 2014. The attendees, either in person, on the phone or watching our webinar, gave us some great comments to consider.

We’ll continue the discussion later this summer by issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register. The notice will list future meetings and describe the regulatory process in more detail.

Based on feedback received from the public conversations and the ANPR, NRC staff will complete the regulatory basis and make a recommendation to the Commission on whether revisions that may affect how radiation dose is calculated, how it is measured and how radioactive effluents are reported annually are warranted. The NRC staff anticipates the regulatory process related to potential updates will take several years to complete.

Next week, NRC staff from several offices will participate in the 59th Annual Meeting of the Health Physics Society, in Baltimore, Md., and will participate in a technical session that will cover, in more detail, the NRC’s efforts on this issue. In addition, Chairman Allison Macfarlane will address this topic, among others, in the meeting’s opening plenary session.

28 responses to “The NRC Considers Amending Radioactive Release Regulations

  1. Oona Houlihan July 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

    “Proposed Rulemaking” – Well, the main issue, judging from European nuclear power stations is that effluents and immissions, e.g. through the chimneys (Tritium, radioactive noble gases and a few aerosols) is the raised levels of child leukemia (otherwise a very rare occurrence) and thyroid cancers and other thyroid problems in closer proximity to nuclear power stations. Also veterinarians report high levels of mutations, stillbirths and visible birth defects in pets. But nothing is done to fund research into the causes. Maybe the US could do better?

  2. steeve July 16, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Radiation and nuclear has alaways been a big issues for the humanity and I wont let corporations and stuff like that destroying what we have built. I dont want the next generation to come and eat poison you know..

  3. billpks July 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Having now had the opportunity to review the Chairwoman’s speech to the HPS I came away gravely concerned that with all the talk of changes to radiological protection standards that such work is proceeding under this value:

    “In fact, a questioning attitude – asking ourselves how and where we can improve – is also the foundation of ALARA (as low as (is) reasonable achievable), which, in my opinion, is the cornerstone of effective radiation protection.”

    There is an imperious – head held above one’s scientific and technical peers – quality to this speech that belies the suggestion that NRC is in fact open to risk-informed input from outside its own ranks. That the speech doesn’t even acknowledge the differing professional opinions regarding the validity of the LNTH amounts to a virtual rebuke to the members of the HPS.

    I wonder: Is the Chairwoman aware that during the period since the last reactor near site health studies the average exposure across the entire population has doubled while the amount of exposure from NPP remains fully compliant with Appendix I and therefore negligible?

    What that change means is that the traditional rationale for Appendix I ALARA has been practically subverted by the medical establishment. It seems to me that money being spent with the National Academies would have been better spent on looking for consequences in relation to benefits of all that added medical exposure. 50 mrem of incidental exposure from released patients is likewise a candidate for evidence-based regulation taking the place of and anachronistic reliance upon ALARA.

    And finally, I find nothing in this defense of ALARA that acknowledges the substantially fatal consequences of Mismanaged Evacuation Stress Syndrome which is now very evident in the surrounding public impacted by the Fukushima disaster. Silence on that particular point is negligent in my view.

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