EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation has requested SAB advice related to EPA’s review of its regulatory standards in 40 CFR Part 192 - - Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings in regard to underground In-Situ Leach Recovery (ISL/ISR) facilities. The existing standards are utilized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its Agreement States (there are currently 37 Agreement States which are responsible through the state radiation control directors and staff, under authority of section 274 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, to regulate certain uses of radioactive materials within the state), and the Department of Energy (DOE) in their oversight of uranium extraction facility licensing, operations, sites, and wastes.
EPA is authorized to develop standards for the protection of public health, safety, and the environment from radiological and non-radiological hazards associated with residual radioactive materials. The Agency is currently undertaking a review to determine if the existing standards, last revised by EPA in 1995, should be updated. The expectation is that ISL/ISR operations will be the most common type of new uranium extraction facility in the United States. These facilities can affect groundwater. Accordingly, EPA is seeking scientific advice and relevant technical criteria to establish standards and procedures, including the relevant period of monitoring for ISL/ISR facilities, once uranium extraction operations are completed, in order to provide reasonable assurances of aquifer stability and groundwater protection.
The EPA Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA) has requested the SAB to evaluate what criteria, including site characteristics and integrity features as well as other relevant factors and specific procedures that should be considered, to establish a specific period of monitoring for ISL/ISR facilities, once uranium extraction operations are completed. Among the issues to be considered is whether a time frame can be established, whether specific site characteristics, features or benchmarks can be used to aid in establishing a post-closure monitoring time period, and if there are other technical approaches EPA should consider in order to provide reasonable assurances of aquifer stability and groundwater protection.