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Radiation Regulations and Laws
Congress and the president assign radiation protection responsibilities to EPA through laws (also known as statutes). Specific statutes make EPA responsible for writing regulations that explain what must be done to obey the law. Regulations are requirements that can apply to individuals, businesses, states, local governments, or other institutions. Many environmental regulations set standards that limit the amount of a hazardous material allowed in the environment.
Click on the tabs below to see the regulations and laws that protect the public and environment from radioactive pollutants.
Specific Radiation Sources
Nuclear Power Operations
These standards limit radiation releases and doses to the public from the normal operation (non-emergency) of nuclear power plants and other uranium fuel cycle facilities.
Spent Nuclear Fuel, High Level, and Transuranic Wastes
This regulation sets environmental standards for the disposal of spent nuclear fuelspent nuclear fuelFuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor after use. It is still highly radioactive., high-level wastes and transuranictransuranicElements with atomic numbers higher than uranium (92). For example, plutonium and americium are transuranics. radioactive wastes.
Uranium Mill Wastes
Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings (40 CFR Part 192)
This regulation sets standards for the protection of the public health, safety and the environment from radiological and non-radiological hazards associated with uranium and thorium ore processing, and disposal of associated wastes. In January 2015, EPA proposed adding a new Subpart F to 40 CFR 192 that would establish ground water restoration and monitoring requirements at in-situ recovery facilities.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)
Criteria for the Certification and Recertification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s Compliance with the 40 CFR Part 191 Disposal Regulations (40 CFR 194)
These criteria apply to the certification and recertification of compliance with the radioactive waste disposal standards at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. WIPP is a deep geologic repository operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for permanent disposal of a specific type of waste from the nation's nuclear defense program.
Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197)
These regulations, promulgated in 2008, establish public health and environmental standards for storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel at the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would implement these regulations at Yucca Mountain if a repository were to be established there.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate airborne emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from a specific list of industrial sources called "source categories." Standards known as the "National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants" (NESHAPs) dictate specific regulatory limits for source categories that emit radionuclides.
40 CFR Part 61: National Emission Standards For Hazardous Air Pollutants: Subpart
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets legal limits on the levels of certain radionuclides in drinking water.
- Atomic Energy Act (AEA)
1946 - Atomic Energy Act as amended in 1954 (42 USC 2011 et seq.)
The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) gives EPA authority to establish environmental standards and to issue recommendations on radiation protection to federal and state organizations. This authority was transferred from the former Atomic Energy Commission to EPA in 1970.
- Clean Air Act (CAA)
1963 - Clean Air Act as amended in 1970, 1977, 1990 (42 USC 7401 et seq.)
The CAA is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from area, stationary and mobile sources. Section 112 provides EPA the authority to list hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and to develop and enforce emission limits for each of them. Some HAPs are radionuclides.
- Clean Water Act (CWA)
1972 - Federal Water Pollution Control Act amended by the Clean Water Act of '77, '87 (33 USC 1251 et seq.)
The CWA regulates the discharges of pollutants, including some radionuclides, into the waters of the United States. It authorizes EPA and states to set and enforce quality standards for surface waters. The primary objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation's waters.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
1980 - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act as amended, 1986, 1990 (42 USC 9601 et seq.)
CERCLA (commonly known as Superfund) provides broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants and contaminants that may endanger public health or the environment. CERCLA applies to radionuclides that are listed as hazardous substances in other environmental laws.
- Energy Policy Act (EnPA)
1992 - Energy Policy Act (PL 102-186)
The EnPA requires EPA to "promulgate standards to ensure protection of public health from high-level radioactive wastes in a deep geologic repository that might be built under Yucca Mountain in Nevada." It directs EPA to issue site-specific public health and safety standards for the proposed Yucca mountain repository.
- Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act (LLRWPA)
1980 - Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act as amended in 1985 (42 USC 2021b et. seq.)
The LLRWPA requires each State to be responsible for providing disposal capacity for commercial LLW generated within its borders by January 1, 1986. It encouraged States to form regional compacts to develop new disposal facilities. The LLRWPA applies to the proposed radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
- Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
1972 - Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act as amended in 1977(32 USC 1401 et seq.)
The MPRSA authorizes EPA to issue permits and regulations for disposing of materials into the territorial waters of the United States. Ocean disposal of low-level waste requires a permit that must be approved by both houses of Congress. MPRSA specifically prohibits ocean disposal of high-level radioactive waste.
- Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and Amendments
1982 - Nuclear Waste Policy Act (42 USC 10101 et seq.)
The NWPA establishes procedures to evaluate and select sites for deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste. It assigns DOE the responsibility to site, build and operate a deep geologic repository for the disposal of high-level wastes (HLW) and spent nuclear fuel (SNF). It directs EPA to develop standards for protection of the environment from off-site releases of radioactive material in repositories. The NWPA directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to license a repository only if it meets EPA's standards and all other relevant requirements.
Amendments to the NWPA directed DOE to consider Yucca Mountain as the sole site for the first geologic repository for high-level waste (HLW) and spent nuclear fuel (SNF). It also established a commission to study the need and feasibility of a monitored retrievable storage facility.
- Public Health Service Act (PHSA)
1944 - Public Health Service Act as amended in '57,'58,'60, '76 (42 USC 201 et seq.)
The amended PHSA provides EPA with the authority to:
- Collect, analyze, and interpret data on environmental radiation levels.
- Research the environmental and human health effects of exposure to radiation.
- Develop protective action guides.
- Provide training and technical assistance to the states.
Read the full text of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) (PDF) (1,585 pp, 3.81 MB, About PDF).
- Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
1974 - Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in '86, '96 (43 USC s/s 300f et seq.)
The SDWA requires EPA to promulgate and enforce primary standards for contaminants in public water systems, including radionuclides. The SDWA also provides EPA with emergency response authority to protect public drinking water supplies.
- Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA)
1978 - Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act(42 USC 2022 et seq.)
UMTRCA amended the AEA by directing EPA to set generally applicable health and environmental standards to govern the stabilization, restoration, disposal, and control of effluents and emissions at both active and inactive mill tailings sites. UMTRCA covers operating uranium processing sites, inactive uranium mill tailing sites, depository sites and vicinity properties.
- Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act (LWA)
1992 - Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act as amended in 1996 (PL 102-579)
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act (LWA) sets aside the land for developing and building a transuranic radioactive waste repository. It makes EPA responsible for development of environmental standards at WIPP and for certifying that the facility is complying with them.