The state wants to increase its regulation of radioactive materials used in Vermont. But the new oversight would not involve additional control over the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates all kinds of nuclear material — from isotopes used in health care to instruments used in industry.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says Vermont now want the federal government to delegate those duties to the state.
"Vermont is asking to do what many, many other states have done which is sign an agreement with the NRC whereby they would take on those responsibilities,” he says
Sheehan says if the feds grant the approval, primary oversight of Vermont Yankee and its decommissioning would remain with the federal government.
He says the state wants to take over the licensing and regulation of other nuclear materials.
Bill Irwin, radiological and toxicological science program chief at the Vermont Department of Health, says most of the materials are used in hospitals and health care settings.
"Most uses in medicine are of materials that have very short half-lives, so that if they are used for patient treatment or patient diagnosis, the level of radioactivity decreases very rapidly in the patient,” he says.
Irwin says 37 states now regulate nuclear material. He says Vermont already oversees some aspects of radiological safety, such as radiation produced by machines in hospitals and universities.
"And this consolidates all of the uses of ionizing radiation whether they're from machines or radioactive materials which makes it a little bit – I would say much more convenient – for the organizations in Vermont that we would regulate,” he says.
Irwin says transferring oversight to the state would also keep the needed expertise within state government. He says that technical experience will be useful even as the Vermont Yankee plant moves toward decommissioning.
"And this is a way for us to take people that have been working very hard to manage the safe operation of Vermont Yankee for many decades and keep them on board and have them engaged in new activities regulating the use of radioactive materials at other facilities,” he says.
Two full time employees would likely be needed to staff the regulatory program. Irwin says the state hopes to get federal approval and make the changes some time in 2017.