Vol. 43 No. 17 April 25, 2002
U.K. WANTS SINGLE
DOSE STANDARD FOR NUCLEAR, OTHER INDUSTRIES
U.K. decommissioning experts are registering increasing concern about
aregulatory "double standard" developing throughout much of Europe that allows
up to around 30 times higher individual dose rates from radioactive material
released from non-nuclear industries as from the nuclear industry.
Norway and Holland appear to be the only countries until now striving to achieve
equal treatment across the board. Norway uses an individual dose constraint of
10 microSieverts/year prescribed for the nuclear industry to also cover the
exemption of radium (Ra)-226, Ra-228, and PB-210 (lead) recovered from oil and
U.K. speakers and delegates at conferences and seminars over the past nine
months have stressed the "glaring inconsistencies" in the regulatory treatment
of exactly the same nuclide. "What is the scientific basis," asked Stan
Gordelier, director of U.K. Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA) southern division
at a decommissioning meeting in London last month.
Siempelkamp in Germany, for instance, melts radioactive scrap from the nuclear
and oil and gas industries but has to meet a "nuclear" dose criterion much more
stringent than the 1 milliSievert (mSv) maximum dose stipulated for the oil and
Roger Bond, an expert in the field, who was formerly
with AEA Technology and is now running consulting company Normtec, described
exemption and clearance levels in the U.K. as "a real problem”. We have a large
number of statutory instruments with different levels of exemption," he told a
London Waste Conference April 22. Bond suggested efforts be made to provide
consistency in the advice from regulators.
The U.K. industry sees the costs involved in such double standards as
particularly daunting as the country gears up to tackle its massive nuclear
cleanup program. Nuclear decommissioning activity produces large amounts of
relatively low-activity waste. Waste management in decommissioning programs
typically accounts for between 40% to 60% of total project costs, according to
experts in the field.
This week in London, Shankar Menon, the program coordinator for the OECD/NEA
cooperative program on decommissioning, noted that both the European Commission
(EC) and the IAEA appeared to be proposing disparate standards in draft
regulations by suggesting a 10 microSieverts/year individual dose criterion for
release of material from the nuclear industry and 300 microSieverts/year from
the non-nuclear industries.
In doing this, a message is being sent to the public that nuclear radioactivity
"is up to 30 times as dangerous" as radiologically similar material arising in
non-nuclear industries, Menon told IBC's "Natural Radiation and NORM" conference
April 22 and 23. Yet, "the U.S. Academy of Sciences has stated that there is no
plausible rationale for any difference in risks from naturally occurring or any
other radionuclides," he stressed.
It is only in the last decade that the international community has become aware of the prevalence of Tenorm
(technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material), he said.
Tenorm is formed by the artificial concentration of radioactivity in products
and byproducts in such industries as coal, fertilizer, oil, gas, and mining.
"This Tenorm is just as artificial as the artificial nuclides produced in a
nuclear reactor," he said.
The candidate quantities of Tenorm for release are more than three orders of
magnitude larger than those from the nuclear industry, he said. Current
regulations in many countries severely restrict the concentration and quantities
of long-lived nuclides at near-surface repositories. The major radionuclide in
Tenorm, Ra 226, has a half-life of 1,600 years. The huge quantities of Tenorm
arisings may require them to be disposed in deep geological repositories if
treated in the same manner as similar material from the nuclear industry, "with
the consequent costs," he said.
"The same nuclide, at the same concentration," can either be sent to deep
disposal or released for use in road repair, depending on where it is coming
from, according to the current proposed double standards, he said.
The largest Tenorm waste stream is coal ash, with 280 million tons arising
globally every year, according to Unscear. "What are the resulting individual
doses to the public" of utilized coal ash, Menon asked conference delegates. "It
is not known to us whether the EC has made any studies relating to the subject."
The dominating nuclides in scrap from the nuclear industry are Co-60 (cobalt),
with a half-life of 5.4 years, and Cs- 137 (Cesium), with a half-life of 30
years, he said.
Application of the 300 microSievert/year dose limit for Tenorm results in a
rounded general clearance level for Ra- 226 of 0.5 Becquerels/gram (Bq/g),
compared with 0.01 Bq/g for "nuclear" materials, said Menon.
He also underscored the implications of the discrepancies in standards for the
competitiveness of the deregulated market. Competition between nuclear and oil
and coal could not help but be affected, with nuclear suffering from the more
stringent regulatory criteria, he pointed out.
Menon called for the Tenorm dose criterion proposed in draft EC Radiation
Protection guideline 122 to be applied equally to material from the nuclear
industry. "It is time to do away with inconsistencies and have one unique dose
criterion for all types of exposure to ionizing radiation, regardless of its
source," he said.
Jan van der Steen of NRG, the Dutch nuclear research & consulting group, told
the same conference that the inconsistency over regulating Ra-226 "is exactly
the reason why we chose in the Netherlands to go for only the one figure."
Menon described current progress toward some kind of international regulation as
"fluid and rather confused."
The 300 microSieverts/year criterion, he said, is two to three orders of
magnitude lower than the doses absorbed for generations by tens of thousands of
people living in high background dose areas of the world such as Ramsar in Iran,
where the mean dose is 10.2 mSv/year and the maximum dose is 260 mSv/year;
Guarapari, Brazil (5.5 and 35); Kerala, India (3.8 and 35); and Yangjiang, China
(3.5 and 5.4), he said.
Yet preliminary biological studies indicated the inhabitants of such areas had
not shown any differences in cancer mortality, life expectancy, chromosome
aberrations, or immune function, compared to those living in normal background
areas. He suggested further detailed studies be done of these groups.
Geoffrey Webb, an international radiation safety consultant and president of the
International Radiation Protection Association, noted that studies of these
high-dose groups had "been in the minds of Unscear for 20 years at least" but
that though some studies had been done, Unscear (UN Scientific Committee on the
Effects of Atomic Radiation) and other bodies in the international arena had
generally not given a very high weight to the statistical results. This was
because of a number of difficulties in studying such groups, including the
inherent problems involved in the small size of the populations, the diagnosis
of disease in the countries involved and the difficulty of coming up with a good
In a separate interview with Nucleonics Week, Menon said, "The radiation
protection establishment seems to be in a quandary about how to treat this
enormous quantity of Tenorm when they havesuch stringent regulations for the
same kind of radioactivity for a muchsmaller amount of arisings from the nuclear
—Pearl Marshall, London