WASHINGTON—Nuclear power plant emergency response plans have been effective to protect public health and safety in scores of non-nuclear incidents, the Nuclear Energy Institute said today.
“There is no analytical basis for the Witt report’s conclusion that the emergency plans are ineffective,” wrote Executive Vice President Angelina S. Howard in formal industry comments to James Lee Witt Associates. Witt Associates in January released a draft report on emergency response plans at the Indian Point and Millstone nuclear power plants, located near New York City. New York Gov. George Pataki requested the $800,000 study to help guide the state’s examination of security and emergency preparedness at Indian Point in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The industry’s fundamental approach to emergency preparedness incorporates multiple protective measures to prevent the release of radiation in the first place,” Howard wrote. “Nuclear plants are designed, built and operated to prevent a radiation release, even in extreme cases, including natural disasters or acts of terrorism.”
Howard said the Witt draft report raises some issues that the industry will explore as part of an industry-wide review of emergency response planning, notably notification of the public in the event of a plant emergency, industry/government communications and public education of emergency response plans.
However, the broad conclusions of the report are “deeply flawed. Rather than informing the debate, the report is being used by opponents of Indian Point to deliberately raise fear among the public,” Howard wrote. “As a result, the report undermines public confidence in a state-of-the-art emergency preparedness program that is the proven standard for orderly, successful evacuations of the public.”
Each of the 103 U.S. reactors is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to develop and regularly test emergency response plans. The plans must provide protective measures for communities in 10-mile and 50-mile public protection zones. These public safety zones were determined by the Environmental Protection Agency and the NRC, and there are specific emergency response measures for each zone.
A radiation release from a nuclear power plant is extremely unlikely due to a reactor operating event or sabotage. Even in the unlikely event that radiation were released from the robust reactor building, such a release would occur over a period of several hours, providing time for public evacuation or sheltering.
Sheltering measures are expected to be most widely used to protect the public in the event of a radiation release. If a public evacuation is necessary, analysis demonstrates that only residents in a portion of the 10-mile emergency zone would have to evacuate. Radiation dose as a result of most major reactor accidents is not a threat to public health and safety beyond the 10-mile zone, and evacuations of citizens beyond this area are not necessary, Howard wrote.
The industry has gained insights from analyses of more than 50 large-scale emergencies—both natural events and industrial accidents—that required the evacuation of up to 300,000 people. The report found that evacuations proceeded smoothly and safely, even when managed by local response officials without advance preparation and with little or no evacuation training. The Witt report acknowledges that communities that have “undergone nuclear [emergency] planning are more rigorously prepared and capable than most communities that do not have nuclear power plants…” However, this capability is not factored in the Witt report’s overall findings.
NEI said emergency response plans for nuclear power plants would be implemented in the same manner regardless of the scenario that leads to a reactor incident. “If a terrorist attack resulted in a release of radiation, the timing and quantity of a radiation release would be no different that plant accident scenarios to which emergency response teams plan a drill,” Howard wrote. “The draft report asserts that the timeframe used in a scenario leading to a rapid release of radiation is too quick for a response, but does not provide justification for this assertion.”
Even in the unlikely event of sabotage at a nuclear power plant, public health consequences would be lower than the NRC’s safety standards for severe reactor accident scenarios, according to a report by EPRI, an electric research organization in Palo Alto, Calif. The number of possible fatalities from terrorist ground attack scenarios would be small—one to two deaths every 600,000 years at a nuclear power plant, according to EPRI.
“In reality, state-of-the-art intruder detection and advance warning systems, robust physical barriers and a coordinated paramilitary response by industry security forces would significantly extend the timeframe of the attack and allow significant reinforcements to reach the site,” Howard wrote. “Moreover, plant operators are well trained on emergency procedures—including training on reactor simulators and frequent drills and exercises—to respond to emergencies with little or no warning.”
Nuclear plants are the best defended industrial facilities in the country. Since Sept. 11, 2001, additional security measures include extending physical plant security zones and increasing security patrols within these zones. Security forces at 67 nuclear power plants have been increased by about one-third to approximately 7,000 well-armed, highly trained officers. The industry is working closely with the NRC and Department of Homeland Security to develop a seamless defensive shield at nuclear power plants, using both industry resources and state and federal protective measures where needed.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.