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Laws We Use (Summaries)


Below is a chronological list with brief summaries of the laws EPA uses to protect people and the environment from harmful exposure to radiation

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1944 - Public Health Service Act as amended in '57,'58,'60, '76 (42 USC 201 et seq.)

The PHSA provides EPA with the authority to conduct a range of radiation protection activities:

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1946 - Atomic Energy Act as amended in 1954 (42 USC 2011 et seq.)

The AEA established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to promote the "utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public." When EPA was formed, the AEC's authority to issue generally applicable environmental radiation standards was transferred to EPA. Other federal and state organizations must follow these standards when developing requirements for their areas of radiation protection.

EPA also received the Federal Radiation Council's authority under the AEA:

See also EO10831, Establishing the Federal Radiation Council.

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1963 - Clean Air Act as amended in 1970, 1977, 1990 (42 USC 7401 et seq.)

The Clean Air Act, as amended in 1990, 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, or HAPs, and to develop and enforce emission limits for each of them. Section 112(a) introduced the concept of "ample margin of safety to protect public health" in setting these limits. The limits are referred to as "National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants" or NESHAPs.

Section 103 of the CAA provides EPA broad authority to gather information, provide grants, to conduct or promote research, and to coordinate and accelerate training.

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1972 - Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act as amended in 1977(32 USC 1401 et seq.)

The MPRSA authorizes EPA to issue permits and promulgate regulations for disposing of materials into the territorial waters of the United States when it will not degrade or endanger human health, welfare, ecological systems, the marine environment, or the economy.

It specifically prohibits ocean disposal of HLW and requires a permit for any other ocean disposal activity. Any request for ocean disposal of LLW requires a permit that must be approved by both houses of Congress.

1972 - Federal Water Pollution Control Act amended by the Clean Water Act of '77, '87 (33 USC 1251 et seq.)

The primary objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation's waters. The CWA sets these provisions:

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1974 - Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in '86, '96(43 USC s/s 300f et seq.)

SDWA requires EPA to promulgate and enforce primary standards for contaminants in public water systems, including radionuclides. Initially, EPA was to set interim regulations for a limited group of contaminants and later revise those regulations to set standards for the remaining contaminants.

The 1986 amendments required EPA to develop maximum contaminant level guidelines (MCLGs) and maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, concurrently and to finalize the interim regulations. Under this statute EPA may delegate program enforcement authority to the States.

The 1996 amendments to the SDWA directed EPA to do the following:

SDWA also provides EPA with emergency response authority. Section 1431(a) directs the Agency to take the necessary actions to protect the public health during emergencies that affect public drinking water supplies.

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1976 - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as amended in '84, '86 (42 USC 6901 et seq.)

RCRA has four main goals:

RCRA focuses only on active and planned facilities. It does not address abandoned or historical sites. (See CERCLA.)

Although source, special nuclear, or by product material as defined by the AEA is specifically excluded from RCRA, it generally does apply to naturally occurring radioactive materials.

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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.

Title I of the Act covers inactive uranium mill tailing sites, depository sites, and vicinity properties. It directs EPA, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to undertake the following:


Title II of the Act covers operating uranium processing sites licensed by the NRC. EPA was directed to promulgate disposal standards in compliance with Subtitle C of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended, to be implemented by NRC or the Agreement States. The 1993 Amendments to UMTRCA further directed EPA to promulgate general environmental standards for the processing, possession, transfer, and disposal of uranium mill tailings. NRC was required to implement these standards at Title II sites.

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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 was amended in 1985 to provide States more time to develop facilities and to provide incentives for volume reduction of LLW.

1980 - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act as amended, 1986, 1990 (42 USC 9601 et seq.)

CERCLA (commonly known as Superfund) creates a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and 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 also authorizes and directs EPA to carry out a program of training and evaluation of training needs in the procedures for the handling and removal of hazardous substances.

CERCLA applies to hazardous substances defined by other environmental laws. For example, since the CAA amendments list radionuclides as hazardous substances, they are covered by CERCLA.

CERCLA authorizes two kinds of response actions:

These response actions are conducted in accordance with the concept of operations contained in the NCP (40 CFR Part 300).

While the above is a general description of how CERCLA works, response actions are handled somewhat differently at federal and federally licensed sites. This reflects the division of radiation protection responsibilities among various federal agencies. For example:

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1982 - Nuclear Waste Policy Act (42 USC 10101 et seq.)

The NWPA supports the use of deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste. The Act establishes procedures to evaluate and select sites for geologic repositories and for the interaction of state and federal governments. It also provides a timetable of key milestones the federal agencies must meet in carrying out the program.

The NWPA assigns DOE the responsibility to site, build, and operate a deep geologic repository for the disposal of HLW and SNF. It directs EPA to develop standards for protection of the general environment from off site releases of radioactive material in repositories. The Act directs NRC to license DOE to operate a repository only if it meets EPA's standards and all other relevant requirements.

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1987 - Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act (42 USC 10101 et seq.)

The NWPAA directs DOE to consider Yucca Mountain as the primary site for the first geologic repository for HLW and SNF, and prohibits DOE from conducting site specific activities at a second site, unless authorized by Congress. It also requires the Secretary of Energy to develop a report on the need for a second repository no later than January 1, 2010.

The NWPAA also established a commission to study the need and feasibility of a monitored retrievable storage facility.

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1988 - Indoor Radon Abatement Act

The IRAA establishes a long-term goal that indoor air be as free from radon as the ambient air outside buildings. The law authorized funds for radon-related activities at the state and federal levels:

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1992 - Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act as amended in 1996(PL 102-579)

The WIPP LWA sets aside the land for developing and building a transuranic radioactive waste repository and assigns the following specific regulatory and enforcement roles to EPA:

It also prohibits the application of the general standards to sites being considered for the disposal of HLW and SNF under the NWPA (e.g., Yucca Mountain).

The 1996 WIPP LWA Amendments (PL104-201) dictated three major items.

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 these site-specific public health and safety standards, "based upon and consistent with the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences..."

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