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Naturally Occurring Radioactiave Material: Regulators Should Look Before They Leap

January 1992

Citation: 22 ELR 10052

Issue: 1

Author: Michael L. Goo and Anthony J. Thompson

Editors' Summary: The Atomic Energy Act does not regulate a variety of substances that occur routinely in nature or that may become radioactively enhanced through human activity. These substances, known as naturally occurring radioactive material or NORM, may exist in waste produced by key industrial activities involving petroleum, natural gas, geothermal energy, water treatment, and mining. The NRC, EPA, and some states are now attempting to regulate some of the hazards that they perceive are caused by NORM.

The authors first discuss the scientific aspects of NORM. They note that in a world bathed in radioactivity from natural sources, regulating potential risks from this radioactivity poses questions far different from those arising from environmental contamination solely due to human activities. They next discuss the regulatory efforts that have been made by the NRC, EPA, Texas, and Louisiana to control possible NORM hazards, and examine model state regulations drafted by the National Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors. They find that although huge amounts of NORM are being generated, the actual extent of radioactive hazards from these materials has not been fully verified. They recommend that the extent and nature of the NORM problem be studied further before federal and state governments adopt regulations to address potential NORM hazards. Next, they suggest that attempts to regulate NORM using regulatory programs designed to deal with other environmental problems, such as hazardous waste or nuclear waste from the nuclear power industry, should be abandoned. The authors urge that any NORM program be tailored to the NORM problem and that NORM regulations not be adopted as part of another regulatory program.

Anthony J. Thompson is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Perkins Coie and co-ordinator of the firm's national environmental and natural resources practice.

Michael L. Goo is an associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Perkins Coie and concentrates in environmental law. The authors would like to thank Donald C. Bayer and Nancy W. Benning for their assistance in preparing this Article.

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