In recognition of all the safety issues and dangers from operating nuclear power plants, the US government requires each nuclear plant owner to prepare and publish emergency plans to ensure public safety in the event of an emergency. Such an emergency plan was put into action in 1979 near Three Mile Island during the reactor core meltdown. In Japan
|Chernobyl radiation plume, extent and severity|
From the NRC’s backgrounder on emergency preparedness, “[b]efore a plant is licensed to operate, the NRC must have “reasonable assurance that adequate protective measures can and will be taken in the event of a radiological emergency.” The NRC’s decision of reasonable assurance is based on licensees complying with NRC regulations and guidance. In addition, licensees and area response organizations must demonstrate they can effectively implement emergency plans and procedures during periodic evaluated exercises.”
Also, “[f]or planning purposes, the NRC defines two emergency planning zones (EPZs) around each nuclear power plant. The exact size and configuration of the zones vary from plant to plant due to local emergency response needs and capabilities, population, land characteristics, access routes, and jurisdictional boundaries. The two types of EPZs are:
1) The plume exposure pathway EPZ extends about 10 miles in radius around a plant. Its primary
concern is the exposure of the public to, and the inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination.
2) The ingestion pathway EPZ extends about 50 miles in radius around a plant. Its primary concern is the ingestion of food and liquid that is contaminated by radioactivity.”
The NRC also classifies each emergency event into four categories of increasing severity. From the backgrounder, “[e]mergency Classification is a set of plant conditions which indicate a level of risk to the public. Nuclear power plants use the four emergency classifications listed below in order of increasing severity.
1) Notification of Unusual Event - Under this category, events are in process or have occurred which indicate potential degradation in the level of safety of the plant. No release of radioactive material requiring offsite response or monitoring is expected unless further degradation occurs.
2) Alert - If an alert is declared, events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potential substantial degradation in the level of safety of the plant. Any releases of radioactive material from the plant are expected to be limited to a small fraction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protective action guides (PAGs).
3) Site Area Emergency - A site area emergency involves events in process or which have occurred that result in actual or likely major failures of plant functions needed for protection of the public. Any releases of radioactive material are not expected to exceed the EPA PAGs except near the site boundary.
4) General Emergency - A general emergency involves actual or imminent substantial core damage or melting of reactor fuel with the potential for loss of containment integrity. Radioactive releases during a general emergency can reasonably be expected to exceed the EPA PAGs for more than the immediate site area.”
Finally, more from the backgrounder on additional information: “[d]etailed information about emergency preparedness is contained in NRC regulations, specifically Appendix E to Part 50 of Title 10 in the Code of Federal Regulations and in NUREG-0654 (FEMA-REP-1), a joint publication of the NRC and FEMA published in November 1980, entitled “Criteria for Preparation and Evaluation of Radiological Emergency Response Plans and Preparedness in Support of Nuclear Power Plants.” These documents along with additional information on the NRC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response programs is available on the NRC Web site at:” (see link).
The official evacuation zone around a nuclear reactor is divided into concentric circles with a 2 mile radius, 5 miles, and 10 miles. (corresponding roughly to 3, 7, and 15 kilometers). However, for a catastrophic release, the General Emergency from above, and appropriate wind conditions, one can envision attempting to evacuate a large city. For example, Houston lies only approximately 70 miles northeast of the South Texas Nuclear Plant. Houston has more than 6 million people in the metropolitan area (Woodlands – Houston – Sugar Land). An attempt to evacuate millions of people from Houston was made only a few years ago due to the arrival of a hurricane. The evacuation was a complete failure, with thousands of vehicles stranded and running out of fuel on highways that were blocked for hours. ( see link for description of Houston evacuation in 2005) San Antonio, with approximately 2.3 million, lies just to the north and west of the South Texas Nuclear Plant.
The Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, with almost 7 million people, lies only approximately 60 miles northeast of another twin-reactor plant near Glen Rose, the Comanche Peak plant. There are many, many other nuclear plants located within similar distances to major population centers in the US.
If nuclear power was as safe as its proponents insist, there would be no need for federal regulations describing and requiring evacuation plans.
The Truth About Nuclear Power emphasizes the economic and safety aspects by showing that (one) modern nuclear power plants are uneconomic to operate compared to natural gas and wind energy, (two) they produce preposterous pricing if they are the sole power source for a grid, (three) they cost far too much to construct, (four) use far more water for cooling, 4 times as much, than better alternatives, (five) nuclear fuel makes them difficult to shut down and requires very costly safeguards, (six) they are built to huge scale of 1,000 to 1,600 MWe or greater to attempt to reduce costs via economy of scale, (seven) an all-nuclear grid will lose customers to self-generation, (eight) smaller and modular nuclear plants have no benefits due to reverse economy of scale, (nine) large-scale plants have very long construction schedules even without lawsuits that delay construction, (ten) nuclear plants do not reach 50 or 60 years life because they require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years that do not always perform as designed, (eleven) France has 85 percent of its electricity produced via nuclear power but it is subsidized, is still almost twice as expensive as prices in the US, and is only viable due to exporting power at night rather than throttling back the plants during low demand, (twelve) nuclear plants cannot provide cheap power on small islands, (thirteen) US nuclear plants are heavily subsidized but still cannot compete, (fourteen), projects are cancelled due to unfavorable economics, reactor vendors are desperate for sales, nuclear advocates tout low operating costs and ignore capital costs, nuclear utilities never ask for a rate decrease when building a new nuclear plant, and high nuclear costs are buried in a large customer base, (fifteen) safety regulations are routinely relaxed to allow the plants to continue operating without spending the funds to bring them into compliance, (sixteen) many, many near-misses occur each year in nuclear power, approximately one every 3 weeks, (seventeen) safety issues with short term, and long-term, storage of spent fuel, (eighteen) safety hazards of spent fuel reprocessing, (nineteen) health effects on people and other living things, (twenty) nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, (twenty-one) nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, (twenty-two) nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, (twenty-three) near-disaster at San Onofre, (twenty-four) the looming disaster at St. Lucie, (twenty-five) the inherently unsafe characteristics of nuclear power plants required government shielding from liability, or subsidy, for the costs of a nuclear accident via the Price-Anderson Act, and (twenty-six) the serious public impacts of large-scale population evacuation and relocation after a major incident, or "extraordinary nuclear occurrence" in the language used by the Price-Anderson Act. Additional articles will include (twenty-seven) the future of nuclear fusion, (twenty-eight) future of thorium reactors, (twenty-nine) future of high-temperature gas nuclear reactors, and (thirty), a concluding chapter with a world-wide economic analysis of nuclear reactors and why countries build them. Links to each article in TANP series are included at the end of this article.
Part Fourteen - A Few More Reasons Nuclear Cannot Compete
Part Fifteen - Nuclear Safety Compromised by Bending the Rules
Part Sixteen - Near Misses on Meltdowns Occur Every 3 Weeks
Part Seventeen - Storing Spent Fuel is Hazardous for Short or Long Term
Part Eighteen - Reprocessing Spent Fuel Is Not Safe
Part Twenty Seven - Power From Nuclear Fusion
Roger E. Sowell
Marina del Rey, California