Re­port: Melt­down emer­gency plans out of date

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY DINA CAPPIELLO AND

The U.S. should cus­tom­ize emer­gency plans for each of the na­tion’s 65 nu­clear power plants, a change that in some cases could ex­pand the stan­dard 10-mile evac­u­a­tion zone in place for more than three decades, an ex­pert panel is rec­om­mend­ing.

That’s one of the lessons to emerge in a 40-page re­port re­leased Thurs­day — three days be­fore the first an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s nu­clear dis­as­ter — from a panel that ex­am­ined the in­ci­dent for the Amer­i­can Nu­clear So­ci­ety. The panel in­cludes a for­mer chair­man of the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, a fel­low at an En­ergy Depart­ment lab­o­ra­tory and seven other nu­clear sci­en­tists.

The re­port con­cludes that U.S. nu­clear power over­sight is ad­e­quate to pro­tect public health and safety, but that emer­gency zones “should not be based on ar­bi­trary mileage des­ig­na­tions.”

Un­der rules in force since 1978, com­mu­ni­ties near nu­clear plants must pre­pare fed­er­ally re­viewed evac­u­a­tion plans only for those liv­ing within 10 miles of the fa­cil­ity. That’s be­cause in a se­vere ac­ci­dent, most of the early deaths — those from ra­di­a­tion sick­ness, not can­cer — are pre­dicted to oc­cur within the first 10 miles.

While that zone can be ad­justed dur­ing an ac­ci­dent, the panel said emer­gency plans should ac­count for how each nu­clear power plant would re­act in a dis­as­ter be­fore it hap­pens.

And if evac­u­a­tion needs to oc­cur, wind pat­terns and pop­u­la­tion also should be con­sid­ered, the panel said.

“It’s a mat­ter of plan­ning,” said Michael Cor­ra­dini, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin’s In­sti­tute of Nu­clear Sys­tems and the panel’s cochair­man. “For cer­tain types of events and cer­tain sever­i­ties, they may change how they evac­u­ate, or who would evac­u­ate.”

An AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion in June found that pop­u­la­tions around the na­tion’s nu­clear power plants have swelled since the fa­cil­i­ties were built, but that lit­tle has been done to ac­count for the risks as­so­ci­ated with evac­u­at­ing so many more peo­ple.

The NRC ap­proved a rule in Au­gust re­quir­ing nu­clear plants to up­date es­ti­mates of how long it would take to evac­u­ate nearby com­mu­ni­ties in an emer­gency. Plant op­er­a­tors now will have to up­date evac­u­a­tion es­ti­mates af­ter ev­ery 10-year cen­sus or when changes in pop­u­la­tion would in­crease the es­ti­mated time by at least 30 min­utes.

The com­mis­sion has not ad­dressed the evac­u­a­tion dis­tance is­sue.

NRC Chair­man Gre­gory Jaczko has said that the 10-mile rule is merely a “plan­ning stan­dard” that could be mod­i­fied in the “un­likely event” of an ac­ci­dent, based on the cir­cum­stances.

“So if we needed to take ac­tion be­yond 10 miles, that’s cer­tainly what we would rec­om­mend,” Mr. Jaczko said af­ter tour­ing the In­dian Point nu­clear com­plex, about 25 miles north of New York City, last year.

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