NRC declines to expand 10-mile evacuation zone

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will not expand its standard 10-mile evacuation zone that it uses for planning purposes around commercial U.S. power reactors, the agency said in an April 9 Federal Register notice.

In February 2012, Michael Mariotte filed a petition on behalf of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) seeking to have NRC expand its existing emergency planning zones (EPZ) to at least 25 miles around nuclear plants. The NIRS petition had also sought to incorporate concurrent natural disasters in the required periodic emergency plan drills.

The NRC has denied the petition because it concludes that the current size of the zones is sufficient and the current setup provides and adequate level of protection  in the event of a nuclear accident.

“The NRC has failed the American people,” said Mariotte, who is president of NIRS. “Rather than learn from Fukushima and act appropriately to protect the public, the agency has chosen to protect the nuclear power industry yet again. The agency claims the evacuation at Fukushima was a success—yet it took more than three weeks for Japan to fully evacuate the most contaminated areas,” Mariotte said in a news release.

The NIRS group wanted a multi-tiered evacuation system.

 The NIRS petition sought to plume exposure pathway EPZ radius from a 10-mile radius to a 25-mile radius and establish a new 50-mile radius emergency response zone with more limited requirements than the plume exposure pathway zone. The petition also sought to have NRC expand the ingestion pathway EPZ radius from a 50-mile radius to a 100- mile radius.

The petitioner groups also wanted the possibility of natural disasters considers alongside the accident.

“The petitioner asserted that ‘‘the requested amendments are essential for the protection of public health and safety in light of the real-world experience of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, which were more severe and affected a much larger geographical area than provided for in the regulations,” according to the Federal Register notice.

“The current EPZs provide a comprehensive EP framework that would allow for expansion of the response efforts beyond the designated distances should the events warrant such an expansion,” according to the NRC decision published in the Federal Register.

The NRC also said that the petitioners were drawing the wrong lessons about evacuation zones from the Fukushima meltdown.

“The NRC disagrees with the petition’s contention that the accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi is a basis for expansion of the EPZ,” the NRC said.

“The development of protective action recommendations by the Japanese Government, including expansion of evacuations out to 20 km (12 miles) from the plant, supported effective and timely evacuation to minimize the impact of the radiological releases on public health and safety,” NRC said.

“Subsequent decisions by the Japanese Government to evacuate selected areas based on potential long-term exposures are also similar to the U.S. strategy to expand protective actions during an event when conditions warrant an expansion,” NRC added.

[Docket Nos. PRM–50–104; NRC–2012–0046]

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.