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To strengthen state health and safety regulation of uranium mills, in April of this year the Commission decided to offer technical assistance to interested Agreement States on a trial basis to assist them in assessing the environmental impacts of their uranium mill licensing. The program will be reviewed annually to check whether it is indeed helping states to regulate more effectively and to develop their own capabilities, or whether the situation calls for further steps by NRC.
My own view is conditioned by the fact that wind-blown tailings and radon releases do not observe state boundaries. Tailings in New Mexico can affect exposures in New York. This suggests the need for uniform national standards. I believe mills should have to follow the same basic health and environmental rules whether or not they are in Agreement States.
Generic Environmental Impact Statement; New Legislation
Our thinking in this area will be assisted by an overview document, a generic environmental impact statement, now being prepared by the NRC on the whole subject of uranium milling operations both under NRC and Agreement State jurisdiction. (I should note that this is being done in response to a petition from a public interest group. ) The report, which will be ready this fall, will emphasize the management of mill tailings. In the process of preparation of this statement, we have come to the view that it would be desirable for NRC to have direct regulatory control over uranium mill tailings. The main difficulty is that present authority does not provide long-term regulatory control of tailings following final termination of mill operations (and therefore uranium possession).
This gap in authority makes it more difficult to provide uniform and effective solutions to the long-term health problems. The simplest legislative adjustment to permit effective regulation would be to include uranium mill tailings among the licensable materials set out in the Atomic Energy Act.
The Commission has in fact decided to ask for such authority. And, I should tell you it has also decided to include a requirement that Agreement State regulation of uranium mills meet minimum federal standards to be set by NRC.
Uranium Mill Tailings at Inactive Sites
This still leaves us with the question of how to handle the twenty-six million tons of tailings at abandoned uranium mills in several western states.
A Department of Energy assessment of this problem has been performed and published. It shows that none of the sites can be considered to be in satisfactory condition from the long-term standpoint. At some sites, no stabilization of the tailings had been carried out. At others the site conditions were found to require continued surveillance and maintenance.
A plan drafted by the Executive Branch and incorporated in draft legislation submitted to the Congress a few days ago would authorize corrective actions by the federal government. These would not be subject to licensing but NRC would have a voice in the choice of remedial action -- the individual plans would be subject to NRC review and concurrence. While each of the inactive sites presents a unique waste management problem, the performance criteria now being applied to new, regulated uranium mills should in my view be the objective for the remedial action program to the extent practicable.
I would like to make several observations in conclusion.
getting these problems under control. Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Kennedy. Mr. RICHARD KENNEDY. I have nothing to add, Mr. Chairman.
I concur, of course, in the views expressed by the Chairman of the Commission. I participated fully in the preparation of the testimony which he presented this morning.
I would also add that I concur in Mr. Gilinsky's comments. It is a worthwhile addition which does reflect the wide public participation which has characterized NRC efforts since 1975.
Mr. DINGELL. I think that is true.
STATEMENT OF DAVID G. HAWKINS Mr. HAWKINS. I am pleased to be here today to testify on H.R. 12535.
First, I would like to mention the background for EPA's interest in this area.
On March 12, 1974, Dr. William D. Rowe, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Radiation Programs in EPA testified on a proposed bill to limit the exposure of persons to radiation emanating from the Vitro uranium milltailings site in Salt Lake City. At that time we felt that additional studies were needed of all the inactive uranium milltailings sites to assure that adequate data were available on the extent of the total environmental impact, potential future health problems and the possible remedial actions and their costs.
Our office has been working with the Department of Energy and the involved States on a study to scope out a cost estimate of remedial actions necessary to alleviate the potential environmental problem from these sites.
During the period April-October 1974, EPA, Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), and State representatives conducted a phase I study of 21 inactive pile sites to define the extent of the problem and to recommend possible solutions.
The phase I findings formed the basis for the initiation of engineering assessments constituting phase II for 21 millsites plus Riverton, Wyo.-Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed facility at that time-which would include evaluation of the problems, examination of alternative solutions, and the preparation of cost estimates for the remedial action measures.
The EPA also provided interim cleanup criteria for use in preparing these assessments. Funds from the EPA energy fund$900,000 were transferred to ERDA, which in turn entered into a contract with an architect-engineering company to begin phase II. ERDA, the lead agency in these program efforts, has received additional funds from Congress to continue the study.
In addition to the funds provided by EPA, our office in Las Vegas has conducted gamma surveys around these sites to determine the extent of tailings spread by wind and water erosion. We assisted ERDA in developing the scope of the study and have reviewed each draft report on the engineering assessment of each site except that of Cannonsburg, Pa., which we have only recently received.
We should also mention that the environmental problems in this situation are in many ways similar to those of other extraction industries where EPA has been deeply involved, especially in the phosphate industry in Florida and Idaho.
In our review of the phase II reports, we feel there is an adequate data base for making a legislative decision on whether to conduct remedial actions on the inactive sites covered under this bill. However, before a final decision can be made on which remedial action to select for certain sites it is felt that further studies will be necessary. It is recognized in these phase II reports that each study is only:
An engineering assessment to determine the relative magnitude of the hazards associated with each site, and to estimate the remedial action costs.
We have already informed the DOE of our feelings on these matters but I would like to briefly mention the areas where we feel further evaluation is required.
No assessment has been made in any of the reports of the amount of exposure which might be received via the food pathway. This is of particular significance if an option for a remedial action is chosen that leaves the pile in approximately its present condition. We know that animals such as cattle, sheep, and pigs are found on or near some sites.
No measurements were made during the ERDA contractor studies to assess the amount of exposure received via the airborne particulate pathway. Since measurable levels of ground deposition due to windblown tailings have been found at all the sites, we believe this pathway should have been evaluated. There would not be a problem if the pile is properly stabilized, but all the options do not include this remedial action.
Due to study limitations adequate hydrological studies were not conducted during the phase II studies. The water pathway is an extremely important one since ground water contamination may be a principal determining factor in a decision to move a particular pile.
Additional hydrogeological evaluations will have to be conducted on certain piles before a final remedial action is initiated. The EPA safe drinking water standards provide an ultimate control for limiting exposure to people and would be used as a basis in these evaluations.
For those sites where pile removal was considered as an option, one or more alternate long-term storage sites were selected. Further assessments of these alternate sites will have to be done before an actual relocation is started.
The EPA has reviewed three drafts of this bill and submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget. Most of our original problems with the bill have been resolved.
This proposed legislation would call for EPA to prescribe radiation protection standards and criteria within 180 days to assure that the public health and the environment are adequately protected in connection with remedial actions selected pursuant to this Act.
EPA is committed to carry out this mandate once the legislation is enacted. This charge is commensurate with those of EPA under the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and every effort will be made to assure consistency in approach with these acts. The NRC shall then be responsible for enforcing these standards while DOE will implement the remedial actions.
We feel this division of responsibility is commensurate with each agency's basic functions. We would note, however, that the NRC charge in the proposed legislation may require some broadening to permit them to prepare regulations pursuant to their enforcement responsibility.
In conclusion, I would add that we belive the regulatory scheme proposed in H.R. 12535, with EPA, DOE, and NRC involvement, will insure the accomplishment of these evaluations. Accordingly, we support H.R. 12535, the administration bill.
Mr. Chairman, we also have detailed responses to questions contained in the subcommittee letter of June 2. 1978.
Mr. DINGELL. That material will appear in the record at the end of your statement.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
assessments prepared (by an ERDA contractor) for the twenty-two
each site identified hy the contractor, the health impacts of
these tailings at each of the sites identified by the
contractor, and state, to what extent,
the EPA agrees
with the contractor's findings or conclusions concerning such
Also show on the table to what extent people
in the area are believed to be threatened by these tailings.
A summary table is given below which lists each site and
an estimate of the 25-year cumulative potential lung
cancers from inhalation of radon daughters if the site
were left as it is.
The people in the area are not