Nuclear Health and Safety

Consensus on Acceptable Radiation Risk to the Public Is Lacking Gao ID: RCED-94-190 September 19, 1994

Differences exist in the limits on human exposure to radiation set by federal agencies, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, raising questions about the precision, credibility, and overall effectiveness of federal radiation standards and guidelines in protecting public health. Taken together, the radiation standards that have been developed reflect a lack of overall interagency agreement on how much radiation risk to the public is acceptable. GAO found at least 26 different draft or finalized federal radiation standards or guidelines. Agencies also do not agree on how to calculate radiation protection standards.

GAO found that: (1) the differences in federal agencies' limits on public exposure to radiation reflect a lack of consensus on what constitutes an acceptable radiation risk to the public; (2) the differing risk assessments and standards have resulted from different regulatory applications and technical methodologies; (3) because of the lack of consensus on calculation methods and radiation protection strategies, regulators cannot clearly assess the overall health impacts and cost-effectiveness of their radiation standards; (4) ineffective policy coordination has resulted in the lack of a uniform federal framework for protecting the public from radiation exposure, which in turn has led to the various radiation limits and protective strategies; (5) interagency disagreements over draft radiation regulations have delayed the completion of the regulations; (6) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has drafted Presidential guidance on radiation protection to replace guidance from 1960 and has been working with other agencies on specific issues; and (7) EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are working to harmonize their respective calculation methodologies and protective strategies to avoid dual regulation.


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