Nuke Panel: Expand Evac Zone

Friday, March 9, 2012 @ 05:03 PM gHale

United States nuclear plants need to customize emergency plans for each of the 65 power plants, which could expand the standard 10-mile evacuation zone, an expert panel is recommending.

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

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The report concludes 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 occur within the first 10 miles. While officials can adjust the zone during an accident, the panel said emergency plans should account for how each nuclear power plant would react in a disaster before it happens.

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

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 the 10-mile rule is merely a “planning standard” officials could modify in the “unlikely event” of an accident, based on the circumstances.

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