U.S. remains woefully unprepared.One year after the Fukushima reactor crisis in Japan, no meaningful progress has been achieved in improving the ability of first responders and medical professionals to react to a disaster on a similar scale in the U.S., according to a report from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, D.C.
"Existing U.S. emergency preparedness drills do not consider prolonged station blackouts, severe regional natural disasters, or multi reactor events. The U.S. has not developed the capability to inform and direct emergency personnel and the public in real time during an unfolding severe event, regarding actual radiation levels, plume directions, food and water safety, timely distribution of stable potassium iodide, or the rationale of sheltering-in-place advisories to the public," the report declares.
Ira Helfand, North American vice president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, adds, "While there is an urgent need to improve our preparedness for a major nuclear accident, we also have to understand that there is no planning possible for some of the worst consequences of a nuclear disaster.
"Recent press reports indicate that the Japanese government feared during the first chaotic days of the accident that it would be necessary to evacuate Tokyo. No one has ever evacuated tens of millions of people, and it probably cannot be done in the time frame that would be required, but that is exactly what we would have to do here in the U.S. in the event of a major accident at Indian Point [in Peekskill, N.Y.].
"The evacuation of a 50-mile zone around Indian Point would involve 17,000,000 people. The evacuation zones around several other plants in the U.S. contain more than 5,000,000 people. In the event of a large-scale disaster, most of these people will not be evacuated and they will be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation which will, in fact, kill many of them."
The PSR report points out that:
* Nearly all spent nuclear fuel ever created by commercial reactors, approximately 72,000 tons, has accumulated and still is stored at U.S. reactor stations. Some 75% of all spent fuel still is in wet cooling pools that are poorly protected, remaining highly vulnerable to loss of cooling events, terrorist attack, and severe natural disasters.
* Over the past 40 years, populations have grown markedly in the 10 and 50-mile established evacuation zones surrounding operating commercial nuclear reactors.
* Severe weather and natural disaster events approaching those of Fukushima no longer are uncommon in the U.S. The Ft. Calhoun Station, on the Missouri River just north of Omaha, Neb., had serious flooding in the summer of 2010 and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission subsequently found that the station's flood plains were inadequate. In April 2011, the Ft. Calhoun Station was put into cold shutdown voluntarily in anticipation of flooding due to unprecedented huge snow pack in the Montana Rockies. On Aug. 23, 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia raved the Washington, D.C., area and liggered shutdown of two regional nuclear stations. The argument "but it hasn't happened here yet" is growing steadily weaker.
* Plume pathways from a severe reactor accident never would behave according to the simple 10-mile radius paradigm central to the basis of current U.S. emergency planning for reactor emergencies; neither would a 50-mile or greater radius, used by the Environmental Protection Agency, for radiation contaminated food and water interdiction, as numerous radiation hot spots have been identified in Japan more than 100 miles from Fukushima.
* The U.S. has not developed the programs to educate the public on radioactivity and radiologic hazards before possible accidents occur. Radiation is silent and invisible and the potential for long-term serious health effects are concepts that are difficult to grasp by the lay person.