There are eight different nuclear power plants within 50 miles of communities in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys where more than 20 million people call home, but the NBC 10 Investigators found, if an evacuation becomes necessary, plans are limited.
Federal regulators only require evacuation plans for areas within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. No municipal government in the region has nuclear evacuation plans beyond that.
In the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered Americans to evacuate at least 50 miles from the Japanese plant. Scientists, nonprofit groups and members of Congress say that should be the American standard.
“I hope the nuclear regulatory commission will listen to the concerns I have and a lot of people have over whether that 10 mile radius is enough.” Senator Bob Casey said.
Casey (D-Pa.) has repeatedly petitioned the NRC for information about its 10 miles evacuation requirement since 2011.
Dan Dorman is a regional director at the NRC overseeing the regulation of 17 nuclear power plants in the northeastern U.S. He said, If necessary, there would be time to broaden an evacuation plan beyond 10 miles.
“I’m not ruling out the possibility that evacuation may be recommended in a severe reactor accident, it’s the question of the level of urgency with it,” Dorman said.
Dorman said local general evacuation plans would cover that scenario. He said specific nuclear evacuation plans beyond 10 miles are unnecessary.
“The resources that have to be applied to do that is not warranted by the level of risk and the time that you need to do it,” he said.
U.S. wind pattern maps from the day of the Fukushima disaster show if a similar accident happened in the U.S. on that day, fallout from nearly every plant would have escaped the 10 mile planned evacuation zone.
In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, the plan to evacuation 10 miles from the Limerick Generating Station says areas of up to 50 miles downwind may be affected during an accident. Officials said expanding the current evacuation plan would be costly.
“You’re not talking about a county of 20,000 people," Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor said. “You’re talking about a county of 800,000 people and if you make that change you’re heavily taxing scarce resources."
Dozens of emergency managers in the region say their evacuation plans would protect the public. They said an expanded plan isn’t needed.
“We don’t have a need or have a requirement to do that,” Delaware Emergency Management Director Jamie Turner said.
But in Camden County, New Jersey, emergency management coordinator Sam Spino is concerned.
“We’re like a bull's-eye right in the middle of three nuclear plants,” he said. “We have to protect the population. That really is concerning.”