Nuclear power is the only technology that requires an emergency evacuation plan. And for unfortunate communities, like those situated near the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, evacuation has meant more than fleeing one’s home. It has meant the death of livestock, contamination of produce and fish, and the realization that returning home won’t be an option for a very long time.
During the initial hours of the crisis, the Japanese government advised residents within a 12-mile radius of the reactor site to evacuate the area. The U.S. government recommended that U.S. citizens evacuate if they were within 50 miles of the plant.
Remember that: 50 miles. Now try to reconcile that with the fact that U.S. nuclear regulations require emergency planning only within a 10-mile radius. Can’t do it? Exactly.
That’s why today, Public Citizen, along with 37 other organizations, filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), calling on it to expand the radius for emergency planning from 10 miles to 25 miles, establish a new 50-mile emergency response zone and take other measures to address the inadequacies in regulations governing emergency planning. See the petition here.
To date, nearly 150,000 people have been evacuated within 25 miles of the Fukushima plant. Radiation accumulated in marine life on the Japanese Coast above legal limits for food, threatening Japan’s fishing industry and food supply. The World Health Organization advised that the sale of food from areas near the plant should be banned by the Japanese government because radiation in food is more dangerous than radioactive particles in the air. A range of Japanese industries have been cited for potential radiation concerns including milk, eggs, meat, spinach and other leafy vegetables. In fact, Japan banned the shipment of green tea leaves grown in four prefectures around Tokyo, a substantial distance from the Fukushima nuclear plant. In addition, more than 10,000 cows were left behind when the evacuation took place. Many died of starvation.
In the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan, emergency planning was one of the many nuclear issues highlighted for NRC review. In a July report, an agency task force recommended that the NRC require that facility emergency plans address prolonged Station Black Out (SBO) and multi-unit events – two scenarios that characterized the nuclear accident in Japan.
But that recommendation does not recognize that the accident was more severe and affected a much larger geographical area than provided for in NRC regulations.
Our existing emergency planning regulations – established more than 30 years ago – are outdated. They don’t reflect the increasing age and vulnerability of operating reactors, changing weather patterns or the increased incidents of natural disasters, not to mention the significantly larger populations near many existing reactor sites.
If we are going to continue to rely on nuclear power despite knowing the potential catastrophic danger, then nothing less than the most comprehensive emergency planning should be in place to protect the public health.