populations around us nuclear plants soar
Last Updated : GMT 09:07:40
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Egypt Today, egypt today
Last Updated : GMT 09:07:40
Egypt Today, egypt today

Populations around U.S. nuclear plants soar

Egypt Today, egypt today

Egypt Today, egypt today Populations around U.S. nuclear plants soar

Buchanan - AP

As America's nuclear power plants have aged, the once-rural areas around them have become far more crowded and much more difficult to evacuate. Yet government and industry have paid little heed, even as plants are running at higher power and posing more danger in the event of an accident, an Associated Press investigation has found. Populations around the facilities have swelled as much as 4 times since 1980, a computer-assisted population analysis shows. But some estimates of evacuation times have not been updated in decades, even as the population has increased more than ever imagined. Emergency plans would direct residents to flee on antiquated, two-lane roads that clog hopelessly at rush hour. And evacuation zones have remained frozen at a 10-mile radius from each plant since they were set in 1978 — despite all that has happened since, including the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan. More than 90 of the nation's 104 operating reactors have been allowed to run at higher power levels for many years, raising the radiation risk in a major accident. In an ongoing investigative series, the AP has reported that aging plants, their lives extended by industry and regulators, are prone to breakdowns that could lead to accidents. And because the federal government has failed to find a location for permanent storage of spent fuel, thousands of tons of highly radioactive used reactor rods are kept in pools onsite — and more is stored there all the time. These mounting risks, though, have not resulted in more vigilant preparations for possible accidents. The AP found serious weaknesses in plans for evacuations around the plants, including emergency drills that do not move people and fail to test different scenarios involving the weather or the time of day. Some plans are merely on checklists, and never have been tested. In drills, responders typically go to command centers and not to their emergency posts. There is no federal requirement for how fast an evacuation must be carried out. And disaster planners from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have made dubious assumptions about the public response to a major accident. They insist, for example, that people who are not called upon to evacuate will stay put; they're now saying that they might under some circumstances tell people to hunker down at home even in the 10-mile evacuation zone, and they believe people will do it. That advice flies in the face of decades of science and policy, millions of dollars in planning and preparations — and common sense. The advice also conflicts with what U.S. officials told Americans in Japan in March, when an earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to Fukushima and melted fuel in three of its six nuclear reactors. Japanese officials ordered those living within 12 miles of the site to leave. The U.S. government's advice to its citizens? If you're within 50 miles, you should evacuate. And NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko insisted that this was nothing more than what would be recommended in a similar situation at home. In fact, under rules in force for more than 30 years, U.S. communities must by law prepare federally reviewed evacuation plans only for those living within 10 miles of a plant. In a severe accident, most of the early deaths — those from radiation sickness, not cancer — are predicted to occur within a 10-mile radius. Those living within 50 miles, meanwhile, are covered only by an "emergency ingestion zone," where states are required to make plans to ban contaminated food and water — but not evacuate. After a May 10 tour at the Indian Point nuclear complex, where two reactors operate just 25 miles from New York City's northern border, Jaczko said the 10-mile rule was merely a "planning standard." He said decisions on what to do in the "unlikely event" of an accident would be based on circumstances. "So if we needed to take action beyond 10 miles, that's certainly what would be recommended." If a 50-mile order were ever issued for Indian Point, it would take in about 17.3 million people — 6% of all Americans, according to an AP population analysis. That would include parts of New Jersey and Connecticut and all of New York City, except for a chunk of Staten Island. Such a mass exodus would be an "enormous challenge" — and a historic feat, said Kelly McKinney, New York City's deputy commissioner of preparedness. "At no time in the history of man," he said, "has anyone tried to move 17 million people in 48 hours." ANALYSIS PINPOINTS GROWTH When reactors were being built, starting in the 1960s, they were generally kept away from population centers. Their remote locations were viewed as a fundamental safety feature — protection aimed at "reducing potential doses and property damage in the event of a severe accident," according to federal guidelines. However, over the decades, millions of newcomers have transformed tranquil woodland or shoreline into buzzing suburbs and bedroom communities. The AP gathered four sets of population data starting in 1980 through 2010 and used mapping software to calculate growth as part of a yearlong investigation of aging issues at nuclear power plants. Last week, the AP reported that federal regulators, working in concert with industry, have repeatedly weakened or failed to enforce safety standards so old reactors can keep operating. The records review included tens of thousands of pages of government and industry studies, test results, inspection reports and regulatory policy statements. The AP found in its population analysis that over the decades, plant operators and federal regulators have given surprisingly little thought to nearby population growth. Officials calculate plant safety margins without considering whether an accident would expose 10,000 or 100,000 people to radiation sickness and cancer. And federal regulators have set no limit for how long evacuations may take for given conditions and locations. The NRC and FEMA acknowledge that radiation releases can happen within a half hour of an accident. Yet a 2004 study for Indian Point estimated total evacuation time from the 10-mile zone, in the snow that is common during local winters, would take 12 hours. The federal government has not even required population updates for the evacuation zones, though that would change under a proposal expected to be adopted later this year. The AP analysis also shows that: Four million people now live within 10 miles of the 65 operating sites. (Population in overlapping zones was counted only once for this part of the analysis.) Back in 1980, with 38 nuclear sites, only 1.5 million people lived that close. Overall, from 1980 to 2010, the average population in the 10-mile evacuation zones ballooned by 62%, from 39,762 to 64,363. Populations within the 10-mile radius have more than doubled at 12 of the 65 sites during the same 30-year period. The most explosive growth occurred around the two-reactor Saint Lucie complex near Fort Pierce, Fla., where the 10-mile population of 43,332 in 1980 grew 366% to 202,010 in 2010. Others in the top five: the two-unit Brunswick complex near the North Carolina coast, which increased 326% from 8,164 to 34,782; Monticello, 35 miles from Minneapolis, where population rose 314% from 14,130 to 58,538; the two-unit Turkey Point site, 20 miles south of Miami, up 302%; and the two-unit San Onofre facility in San Clemente, Calif., up 283%. Among newer reactors, the biggest jump occurred around Shearon Harris, 20 miles southwest of Raleigh, N.C., where population nearly quadrupled from 24,700 in 1990 to 94,465 in 2010. Three other facilities where populations more than doubled during the same 20-year period are the three-unit Palo Verde site, 50 miles west of Phoenix; two-unit McGuire site, 17 miles north of Charlotte, N.C., and the two-unit Catawba complex in South Carolina, 18 miles south of Charlotte. About 120 million people, almost 40% of all Americans, live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, according to the AP's analysis of 2010 Census data.

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