Consolidated Edison Company shut down the Indian Point 2 commercial nuclear power plant in February 2000 because a tube had ruptured in a steam generator, raising the possibility that radioactively contaminated water could leak into the environment. In this case, the total amount of radioactivity released posed no threat because the amount of radioactivity released was about one thousandth of the dose an individual receives from a chest X-ray. However, in the event of a more serious emergency at Indian Point 2, protecting the public from a radioactive release presents more substantial challenges because the plant is located in a heavily populated area. This report reviews issues associated with emergency preparedness protocols associated with the plant. GAO found that a more proactive approach to correct recurring weaknesses could have improved the emergency preparedness plan during the February 2000 emergency. This emergency demonstrated the importance of effective, clear communication networks, both on-site regarding the need to ensure that pagers work well to notify key personnel of an emergency, as well as off-site, regarding communication about the extent and magnitude of the emergency. Exercises, although playing a valuable role in preparing for and assessing radiological emergency readiness, more than likely will not identify the human reactions and all communications issues that could arise in a real radiological emergency. In this regard the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) interact interactions with the states for routine communications needs to be reassessed--at least for the 17 states where another entity is responsible for radiological emergency responses. The lack of knowledge by the four Indian Point counties regarding the flexibility in FEMA's regulations to spend more time at various emergency levels and its proposed streamlined exercise process demonstrate that FEMA's reliance on the state to communicate with the local communities did not work in this case.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||Since the responsibility for responding to radiological emergencies at a large percentage of this nation's nuclear power plants rests with an entity other than the state, the Commissioners of NRC should direct NRC staff to assess the agency's position of communicating with state officials during nonemergency situations.|
|Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response||To improve communications with local governments, the Director of FEMA should determine the reasons the four counties responsible for emergency response at Indian Point 2 are not knowledgeable about FEMA's initiatives and, if necessary, reassess its current practice of communicating through the state during nonemergency situations.|