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Casey Requests Additional Information on Nuclear Disaster Preparedness

June 28, 2011

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today sent letters to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requesting additional information to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place in the event of a disaster at a U.S. nuclear power plant.

“In the wake of the nuclear accident in Japan, it is imperative that we have a full understanding of the current safety practices and procedures as well as a series of recommendations on how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can improve their preparation protocols,” Senator Casey stated in his letter to the NRC. “Given the health and economic repercussions of a nuclear accident, we need to ensure that our citizens are properly prepared and that we anticipate issues before they become problems.”

There are five nuclear power plants operating in Pennsylvania. They are: Beaver Valley in Beaver County, Limerick in Montgomery County, Peach Bottom in York County, Susquehanna in Luzerne County and Three Mile Island in Dauphin County.
A recent investigation by the Associated Press highlights population growth around nuclear power plants as an increasing risk. The Associated Press article is available by clicking here.

The text of the letters is below:

Mr. Gregory B. Jaczko
Chairman
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001

Dear Mr. Jaczko:

I am writing to express concern regarding safety preparations and evacuation procedures in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant in the United States. In the wake of the nuclear accident in Japan, it is imperative that we have a full understanding of the current safety practices and procedures in the United States. I respectfully request a briefing from you on this issue at your earliest convenience.

As a recent investigation by the Associated Press points out, the areas around nuclear power plants have become increasingly crowded since the plants were first built and plant operators originally created their emergency plans. Evacuation plans for older plants may not be up-to-date in accounting for new routes, different traffic patterns and population shifts. Moreover, the risk of radiation from a major accident has reportedly increased in recent years. More than 90 of 104 operating reactors in the United States have operated at higher levels that, according to the Associated Press investigation, could raise the radiation risk in the event of an accident. Furthermore, the volume of spent fuel on reactor sites has also increased due to delay in identifying a permanent storage location in the U.S.

The emergency procedures are unclear and raise several questions, including:

• In developing security protocols, how has the NRC accounted for the increase in population around key nuclear facilities around the country?
• When was the last time that the NRC conducted a review of protocols for evacuation of an area affected by a nuclear accident?
• Has the risk of radiation increased to levels higher than for which emergency plans are designed?
• Has the NRC responsibly reported the risks to health and life, as well as potential economic damages to communities surrounding nuclear power plants in the event of a nuclear accident?

Many nuclear plants in the United States were intentionally built away from population and economic centers. As our country has grown, more of our citizens live in proximity to those plants. These new demographic realities require a reexamination of our security protocols.

As a Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my constituents are deeply concerned about the emergency plans relevant to the Three Mile Island, Susquehanna, Beaver Valley, Peach Bottom and Limerick plants. This growing challenge also has clear national implications that merit further scrutiny. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator

June 28, 2011

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

I am writing to request a Government Accountability Office report on safety preparations and evacuation procedures in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant in the United States. In the wake of the nuclear accident in Japan, it is imperative that we have a full understanding of the current safety practices and procedures as well as a series of recommendations on how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can improve their preparation protocols. Given the health and economic repercussions of a nuclear accident, we need to ensure that our citizens are properly prepared and that we anticipate issues before they become problems.

As a recent investigation by the Associated Press points out, the areas around nuclear power plants have become increasingly crowded since the plants were first built and plant operators originally created their emergency plans. Evacuation plans for older plants may not be up-to-date in accounting for new routes, different traffic patterns and population shifts. Moreover, the risk of radiation from a major accident has reportedly increased in recent years. More than 90 of 104 operating reactors in the United States have operated at higher levels that, according to the Associated Press investigation, could raise the radiation risk in the event of an accident. Furthermore, the volume of spent fuel on reactor sites has also increased due to delay in identifying a permanent storage location in the U.S. The emergency procedures are unclear and may require updating given these new challenges.

I would like this report to examine five areas:

• What are the current evacuation protocols in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant? Does FEMA conduct drills to test evacuation protocols? Are the evacuation plans measured for performance standards?
• In developing security protocols, how have FEMA and the NRC accounted for the increase in population around key nuclear facilities around the country?
• When was the last time that the NRC conducted a review of protocols for evacuation of an area affected by a nuclear accident?
• Has the risk of radiation increased to levels higher than for which emergency plans are designed?
• Has the NRC responsibly reported the risks to health and life, as well as potential economic damages to communities surrounding nuclear power plants in the event of a nuclear accident?

Many nuclear plants in the United States were intentionally built away from population and economic centers. As our country has grown, more of our citizens live in proximity to those plants. These new demographic realities require a reexamination of our security protocols.

As a Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my constituents are deeply concerned about the emergency plans relevant to the Three Mile Island, Susquehanna, Beaver Valley, Peach Bottom and Limerick plants. This growing challenge also has clear national implications that merit GAO examination. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Chairman
Joint Economic Committee