VY site should be cleaned to highest standard

VERNON — The town of Vernon isn't at all interested in turning the Vermont Yankee site into a nature preserve. Its leaders would like to benefit from jobs and taxes brought in by a company or companies occupying that space. Who can blame them?

The question is: Do they know the difference of a few millirems of radiation when a nuclear power plant is decommissioned?

If the site is “released for industrial use,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows a decontamination of 100 millirem. They assume the site will be used by workers staying there during eight-hour shifts only five days a week.

On the other hand, decommissioning so it can be “released for any purpose,” as defined by the NRC, essentially means you can live there 24/7. That corresponds to a decontamination of 25 millirem, which is also the Vermont Health Department's legal limit.

The New England Coalition wants a decontamination to 10 millirem known as the New England Standard, because Maine Yankee, Yankee Rowe, and Connecticut Yankee were decontaminated to 10 millirem and it is also the Massachusetts legal limit for unrestricted use. NorthStar has offered a compromise at 15 millirem.

So what is the difference?

Let's begin by pointing out something easy to understand: with the tiny amounts of radiation we get from sunshine, it is possible to get skin cancer as a result of low-dose ionizing radiation breaking biomolecular bonds and causing DNA damage.

The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation is a series of scientific reports, currently numbering seven, which started some years ago by the National Academy of Sciences. This scholarship is accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the NRC, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others.

Assembled by a committee of experts in the field, its chair, Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston pointed out: “The health risks - particularly the development of solid cancers in organs - rise proportionally with exposure.” He also wrote: “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.”

All this means is that the less you are exposed to radiation, the better.

With any group of experts, there will be disputes and differing opinions and, of course, the argument that we get background radiation all the time. Nonetheless, I stick to my original example of tiny amounts of radiation from the sun causing cancer.

So...Vernon, please choose the 10-millirem solution, not the 100-millirem solution.

That is, choose the released-for-any-purpose standard, not the released-for-industrial-use standard.

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