Areas Around Nuclear Facilities Should Be Better Prepared for Radiological Emergencies

EMD-78-110: Published: Mar 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 1979.

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There are 43 states with sizable nuclear facilities, but there is only limited assurance of adequate protection for workers and nearby residents, in case of a serious accident. Although most facilities are prepared for radiological releases within their boundaries, known deficiencies cast doubt on whether the public would be protected should a nuclear release extend to the outside. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) own or regulate all such facilities in the United States. NRC has the primary responsibility for assisting state and local governments to develop emergency response plans and requiring the review of state plans to determine the inclusion of essential preparedness elements. Although only 10 states have fully adequate plans, licensing of nuclear facilities is continuing in the other states as well because federal law does not require states to adopt peacetime nuclear emergency plans.

Of the 41 states with some sort of plan, 9 have conducted full-scale tests, 16 have held partial drills, and the remaining 16 have not tested their plans. Judging from problems found with the plans tested, untested plans would probably be ineffective in an emergency situation. Around DOD and DOE facilities, emergency preparedness is practically nonexistent because of no sense of risk to the community or from fear of violating security policies. In a nuclear emergency it is vital that state and local authorities be notified promptly, an eventuality for which neither DOD nor DOE has tested its communications systems adequately. Nor has DOE simulated accident conditions, tested its plans, or made an overall review of emergency plans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been established to combine the major responsibilities for emergency planning and focus state and local emergency preparedness efforts.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should assume responsibility for making policy for coordination of local radiological emergency response planning and broaden planning assistance to state and local governments near DOD and DOE facilities. The Chairman, NRC, and the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should require that residents in the vicinity of nuclear facilities be fully informed of potential hazards and emergency actions, without jeopardizing national security. The Chairman, NRC, should receive state and local emergency plans before approving nuclear power plant operations, ensure full participation in annual emergency drills, and establish 10-mile emergency zones with modified emergency plans when necessary. The Secretaries of Defense and Energy should require facility commanders and operators to develop agreements with state and local governments delineating each party's role in case of emergencies involving the area outside the facility, and provide for joint annual drills. Also, the Secretary of Defense should collaborate with states in peacetime emergency planning. Finally, the Secretary of Energy should require DOE major facilities to perform comprehensive emergency drills at least once per year, test plans in realistically simulated conditions, and require periodic headquarters review of each facility's emergency plans.

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