Environmentalists and State of Nevada Say Yucca Mountain Radiation Standards Violate Drinking Water Protection Law

WASHINGTON (May 6, 2002) -- As Congress debates whether to override Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository site, environmental groups and the state of Nevada charge that the Environmental Protection Agency illegally manipulated standards for protecting groundwater around the site from radioactive contamination. As part of lawsuits filed against EPA last July, Nevada, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and six other environmental groups demonstrated the illegality of EPA's actions in arguments filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington late last Friday, and asked the court to require EPA to rewrite the groundwater standards it established specifically for Yucca Mountain.

The NRDC-Nevada court documents show that EPA "gerrymandered" the compliance boundary of the Yucca Mountain site because the projected groundwater contamination would not meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards. To ensure the government could license the repository, EPA extended the compliance boundary to further dilute radioactivity emanating from the site. An attached map of the EPA's proposed groundwater standards compliance boundary shows that the agency allowed for a 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) oval boundary around the Yucca Mountain site, but extended the oval's lower right quadrant south approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) in the direction of groundwater flow to meet federal standards. NRDC and the state of Nevada also pointed out to the court that EPA, in support of its proposed boundary, argues that no one would drill a well for drinking water and irrigation in the area surrounding Yucca Mountain despite the fact there are already wells in the vicinity.

"Everyone knows Yucca Mountain leaks like a sieve," said Thomas B. Cochran, Ph.D., director of NRDC's Nuclear Program. "EPA has committed outright scientific fraud in constructing its drinking water compliance boundary around the Yucca Mountain site. The agency's proposal will permit a radioactive septic field in a region that relies solely on groundwater for drinking water and irrigation."

According to Geoffrey H. Fettus, NRDC's attorney managing the case for the environmental groups, the proposed boundary standard is weaker than the standards EPA applies at other U.S. nuclear sites, and violates federal health and safety regulations. "EPA's dramatically irregular boundary line has no precedent in environmental protection," said Fettus. "It would be laughable if we weren't talking about dangerous radiation that will be around for thousands of years."

The environmental groups that have joined NRDC and the state of Nevada in the case are Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana, Citizen Alert, Nevada Desert Experience, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and Public Citizen.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Additional Downloadable Materials for the Press

Legal Brief in PDF format, 219k.

Map of EPA's proposed boundary line for containment of radiation in PDF format, 387k.

Related NRDC Pages

The Bush Record: Disposal of Nuclear Wastes