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NRC to vote on new evacuation rule.

NRC to vote on new evacuation rule

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is poised to approve a rule change that would allow the licensing of nuclear power plants without state or local input into emergency planning. After reviewing more than 50,000 comments from concerned citizens--most of them opposed to the rule change--the staff of the NRC recommended at an Oct. 22 briefing that the full commission approve the proposal. A final vote is expected this week.

Operating licenses for the completed Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island and the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire have not been issued because state and local authorities are refusing to submit the emergency evacuation plans currently required by the NRC (SN: 3/7/87, p.150). The rule change would allow utility companies to submit their own emergency plans for NRC approval, and would formalize NRC's so-called "realism doctrine.' That doctrine assumes that in a real emergency, local and state governments would in fact assist in implementing an evacuation.

"Obviously, state and local participation in off-site emergency planning is very important,' said William C. Parler, general counsel for the NRC. However, he asserted, the commission has the legal authority to bypass local inut when utility companies can provide "reasonable assurance' that the public health and safety will not be endangered.

According to federal law, no operating license may be issued for a nuclear power plant unless there is "reasonable assurance that adequate protective measures can and will be taken in the event of a radiological emergency.'

Several commissioners and staff people suggested at the briefing that it would be difficult--but not impossible--for a utility to make an adequate emergency plan without the assistance of state and local authorities. But neither was it Congress's intention, they said, to give state or local authorities veto power over the licensing of nuclear plants. One commissioner expressed concern that even if local agencies ultimately cooperated in an emergency, the lack of any coordinated exercises in advance might render emergency measures less effective.

An earlier version of the proposal's environmental impact statement had stated that "the public in the vicinity of the few affected plants would be placed at a somewhat greater risk relative to what would be the case if either the governments cooperated or the NRC adhered to its current emergency planning rules.'

In fact, Parler said at the latest briefing, the new rule as it stands does not require any comparison between emergency plans with or without government cooperation. However, the "reasonable assurance' standard of public protection would be unchanged under the new rule, he said.
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Title Annotation:Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 31, 1987
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