The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) disagrees with a finding from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in March that urged NRC to do more to increase public emergency preparedness outside the 10-mile emergency planning zone for nuclear plants.
But the NRC has already done much research on so-called “shadow evacuations” and has a good handle on the issue, NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said in a June 5 letter to Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del. Carper chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
The GAO had suggested that NRC better research the likely response of people farther than 10 miles out. If said the NRC should consider how people at somewhat greater distances would respond to a radiological accident “and consider how these results may affect estimates for shadow evacuations outside the zone.”
While NRC agrees with GAO’s overall assessment of emergency preparedness around nuclear power plants, it generally disagrees with GAO’s finding on shadow evacuations, the NRC chairman said.
“The NRC has studied evacuations of populations (greater than 1,000 people) from a variety of hazardous conditions in the U.S. Shadow evacuations and the potential impacts on the evacuated population were among many factors studied,” Macfarlane wrote. “While the studies indicated that shadow evacuations occur, they also showed the impact on the overall evacuation to be relatively minor.”
There are several reasons for this, Macfarlane said.
“First, the network of roads rapidly expands further away from each site, providing greater capacity to absorb additional cars. Additionally, the population that would be part of a shadow evacuation resides beyond the 10-mile emergency planning zone border and would enter into the roadways at a distance well removed from the site; this population would be miles ahead of the evacuating population,” Macfarlane said.
“Further, real-world evidence shows that shadow evacuations occur in a graduated manner with an increased population evacuating closer to the source and tapering to zero at greater distances from the incident,” the NRC chairman said.
The NRC has also provided guidance to nuclear plant operators and shadow evacuations and time estimate studies, she added.
NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) work with local and state authorities within the 10-mile zone to plan for potential evacuations. NRC and FEMA require licensees and local and state authorities, respectively, to provide information annually on radiation and protective actions for the public only inside the 10-mile zone.
“Those in the 10-mile zone have been shown to be generally well informed about these emergency preparedness procedures and are likely to follow directions from local and state authorities in the event of a radiological emergency,” GAO said in its March report.
“In contrast, the agencies do not require similar information to be provided to the public outside of the 10-mile zone and have not studied public awareness in this area,” the GAO said.
The GAO study, like many other reports, was in reaction to the March 2011 tsunami that severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan and led to the largest release of radiation since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.