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To the editor:

The Health Physics Society believes that the recent column by Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta, "NRC too soft on recycling radioactive waste," requires a response. We are a 6,000-member professional organization devoted to radiation protection. As scientists and engineers, we believe the public has a right to accurate information.The Anderson and Van Atta column is a sarcastic put-down of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's proposed policy for identifying and classifying wastes that contain such small amounts of radioactivity that should be "below regulatory concern." The editorial appears to be designed to misinform and frighten the reader through the use of innuendos, half-truths and outright falsehoods.

Contrary to the claims of Anderson and Van Atta, the NRC is not proposing to raise levels of radiation to which humans could be subjected, nor is this a battle between the "environmental watchdogs of the EPA" and the "nuclear power lap dogs of the NRC."

The basic proposal is in response to a mandate imposed by the Congress in the Low Level Waste Policy Act of 1985, as well as recommendations made by scientific groups over the past decade. It is a policy that is urgently needed to rationalize disastrous existing national waste management policies.

Contrary to the claims of Anderson and Van Atta, this is not a recycling policy; in fact, the affected categories of wastes are not yet defined. The policy simply provides a framework for identifying and evaluating specific categories of wastes that could be considered for safe disposal in facilities that need not be licensed by the NRC.

Universities and medical centers would be major beneficiaries of the policy, since they cannot carry on their business without producing sizable quantities of wastes that contain minuscule amounts of radioactivity.

The "below regulatory concern" policy would neither encourage nor permit indiscriminate dumping of waste, nor will radioactive wastes be recycled into consumer goods. Children's toys will not "glow in the dark," but consumers and taxpayers will all benefit.

We urge citizens and policymakers, both locally and nationally, to review carefully and attempt to understand this proposed policy. Newsmen such as Anderson and Van Atta have a duty to use their powers responsibly and research their issues more accurately.

Keith J. Schiager, Ph.D.


Health Physics Society

Salt Lake City