For those living in the shadow of cooling towers, the 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was the latest reminder of the devastation potential when an event of man or nature strikes a nuclear energy generating plant.
Fukushima like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island showed the reality of risk that lies within those long shadows that stretch from the generating stations at Limerick, Peach Bottom and TMI and other plants throughout the U.S.
The lessons of Fukushima reverberated so strongly in some nations such as Germany that a timeline was started to abandon nuclear plants as an energy source.
Not so in the U.S.
Here, the licensing process rolls on, even for aging plants like Limerick which is currently in the process of a license renewal that will add 20 years to the operating life of each generator.
At the time of the Fukushima disaster, U.S. officials recommended that Americans there evacuate to a distance of at least 50 miles to remain safe from the plume of radiation escaping the decimated plant.
But an effort to establish an evacuation planning zone of half that distance around nuclear plants here in America was rejected earlier this month by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the grounds that the safeguards already in place are adequate.
The ruling denied a petition by 38 organizations asking to double the evacuation and emergency planning zones around the nation’s nuclear plants.
A year ago, Sen. Robert Casey wrote to the NRC suggesting that evacuation planning for Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants be re-examined. He was reacting to a report issued by the federal Government Accountability Office which concluded that information about evacuation needs beyond the 10-mile zone around each nuclear plant was incomplete.
The GAO report referenced the “shadow evacuation,” a ripple effect created when people outside the required evacuation join the exodus.
In its recent ruling, the NRC affirms its stance that 10 miles is adequate for planning purposes.
We believe population growth and traffic congestion suggest otherwise.
In the case of Limerick, for example, the population in that 10-mile zone has increased by 45 percent since 1990, from 178,047 to 257,625, according to a 2011 Associated Press report on aging nuclear plants. And in a 50-mile radius, the population around Limerick increased by more than 855,000 since 1990, AP reported.
Unfazed, the NRC denied the petition brought by activist groups on the topic, stating “the current size of Emergency Planning Zones is appropriate for existing reactors,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.
It’s a pretty safe bet that in the event of a nuclear accident or even a scare, people living within 12 miles or 30 miles of the plant are likely to flee. The potential for gridlock and panic is mind-boggling.
The tragedies and disasters that affect our world, some by nature and some by human hand, have taught us that no spot is 100 percent safe. In the face of that reality, we have to be 100 percent prepared.
The NRC’s position that a 10-mile zone for evacuation preparedness is adequate fails reasonable standards.
Within the long shadows cast by nuclear plant towers, failure to be prepared is a frightening thought.United States government - Robert Casey - U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Neil Sheehan