of laws and regulations applicable to uranium mining, processing, reclamation, and long-term stewardship. While the committee considers that neither constitutes an ideal model regulatory environment, both illustrate the ongoing evolution of a regulatory environment that either recognizes or drives the continuing development of best practices in the industry.
The committee’s statement of task (Box 1.1) requires that it “review the state and federal regulatory framework for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation” and review “best practices approaches.” The committee has interpreted this charge to be forward looking—to describe what is presently in place and to look to the future in its description of best practices for future regulation of any uranium mining, processing, and reclamation that may occur in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While acknowledging that U.S. federal and state agencies have had extensive experience in attempting to remediate sites that were contaminated by past poor practices, the report does not delve into these past practices nor does it focus on the applicable regulations and programs that address the remediation of such sites.
For a number of reasons, the laws, regulations, and policies governing uranium mining, processing, reclamation, and long-term stewardship activities in the United States are neither well integrated nor transparent. Because of the way in which these laws, regulations, and policies were developed, gaps in coverage exist. First, the relevant laws and regulations were enacted or promulgated over the past 70 years, and were most commonly created after a crisis (e.g., uranium mill tailings contamination at early processing sites) or to address a particular situation, or contaminant, that is not unique to activities involving uranium mining, processing, reclamation, or long-term stewardship. Second, the missions of the agencies involved, and the laws they administer, vary considerably. The regulatory reach of the USNRC has traditionally been focused on radiological issues such as the use of the atom for energy generation and limitations on radiation doses to the public. In contrast, the USEPA’s mission is the prevention of pollution, and the protection of public health and the environment through laws and regulations that are media-specific. Uncontrolled radiation releases are one source of environmental contamination requiring control. Worker safety and protection laws, such as the Mine Safety and Health Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, concentrate on employee health and the elimation of workplace hazards. Third, the laws, regulations, and policies (especially for environmental protection) are media- or activity-specific, and as a result are spread across agencies and consequently are not integrated and can be incomplete. For example, the standards applicable to uranium in air are covered by a different law and different regulations than standards applicable to uranium in water; and in the area of worker protection, three agencies share the responsibility to protect occupational health. In each of these situations, the rules for information sharing, public participation, and enforcement—it they exist at all—are different. Fourth, regulations promulgated for these activities have frequently been challenged in court, and the subsequent litigation