THE BLOG
10/08/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Former NRC Chair: Emergency Plans Won't Protect Residents from Radiation

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The former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said yesterday that emergency plans for a catastrophic event at the Indian Point nuclear power plant are not designed to ensure that residents will escape unhealthy doses of radiation and it would be best if the plant closes down.

Gregory Jaczko, who led the five-member commission during the triple meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station and resigned last year after intense clashes with the industry and the other four commissioners, said in a wide-ranging interview that:

  • Emergency plans for Indian Point only teach officials how to make the best decisions in a bad situation and minimize the extent of contamination for those within 10 miles of the Hudson River site. The plans will do nothing to protect the 21 million people living within 50 miles, including New York City, northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and western Connecticut.
  • With the exception of Allison M. Macfarlane, his replacement as NRC Chair, the four commissioners "were brought onto the commission because they were more interested in looking at the impact of regulations on the industry rather than on the possible impact on the safety of the public."
  • The agency's risk assessment, which undergirds its regulatory structure and determines what practices are safe, is seriously flawed because of a basic assumption that worst case scenarios cannot happen. As a result, there is little thought given to the consequences of accidents -- even though it is certain that some will occur.
  • Because the consequences of a meltdown at Indian Point are incalculably catastrophic, it would be best if the plant were closed.
"I've seen a lot of plants over the years battle states," said Jaczko in his first extended interview since resigning in 2012.

Ultimately, time and effort would be better spent working out a way to shut down Indian Point. Clearly there is a potential for severe accidents at the plant.

Those accidents have the potential to contaminate areas beyond Westchester County. That's not to say Westchester alone should suffer that kind of consequence. I think the best scenario would be to sit down with the State, with all the stakeholders, and work out a plan to shut it down. They should work out a plan in a coordinated manner to find reasonable alternatives for replacement power; you could successfully transition the workforce into other work and other things.

The idea of litigating for years and years only creates animosity and creates further antagonism towards the plant and towards the people and undermines confidence in the whole process.

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Jaczko will be in New York City Tuesday and in Boston Wednesday to participate in the third international forum on the lessons learned by the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the implications for local nuclear communities. The forum Tuesday, beginning at 9 AM at the 92nd Street Y, will include Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan during the first year of the ongoing Fukushima disaster; Peter Bradford, an NRC Commissioner during the Three Mile Island partial meltdown and former member of the Public Service Commissions of both New York and Vermont; nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen; and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. The panel will be moderated by Paul Gallay, head of the environmental group, Riverkeeper, which is challenging the operation of Indian Point in state and federal legal proceedings. It will be available on livestream.

Wednesday's session will be at the Massachusetts State House, sponsored by civic groups and citizens concerned about operations at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. It can be heard via livestream. Further details are available at www.Facebook.com/FukushimaLessons.

For Kan, closing reactors is a mission, almost atonement for the calamity caused by the meltdowns at Fukushima. Kan, speaking through an interpreter, said part of what drives him involves the sheer scale of the nuclear disaster to hit his land.

"Fukushima Daiichi has old reactors, just like Indian Point," said Kan in a late night interview.

And you have an even larger population around Indian Point than we did around Fukushima. I wanted people living in the vicinity of Fukushima to get out of there as quickly as possible. That was my thinking. I ordered an evacuation from five kilometers around the plant, then 10 kilometers, then 20.



And all the while I thought about how this would affect them. What is going to happen to those people in their future? They are going to lose their homes and lose their jobs and lose their way of life. Everything they depended on will be destroyed. I felt really bad for those people who had to leave everything -- who lost everything.

As head of state, the responsibility of not being able to prevent this from happening was a really great burden.

The numbers themselves were frightening to him. There was a fear, at one point, that if the spent fuel pool in Fukushima Unit 4 caught fire, or the three remaining Daiichi spent fuel pools, they could have to evacuate 160 to 200 kilometers -- a mass movement affecting 40 percent of the nation's population and a third of the land.

"Japan, as a country, would cease to function. The only way to ensure that this kind of accident doesn't happen is to not have nuclear power plants."

But the image of the evacuation which haunts him most involves one collapsed housing complex where survivors were found trapped under the rubble. "There was a rescue mission and there was no power and it got dark," Kan recalled.

So the rescue team left to regroup and return in the morning.

And during that night I ordered a wider evacuation, and the lines overlapped -- the rescue team couldn't go back. It was a very small area where the rescue and the evacuation change came together, and initially I didn't grasp how they overlapped. I didn't have a clear picture of those two operations.

The trapped residents waited for help which didn't return, and died under their homes. "We ended up leaving people behind in some areas," said Kan ruefully, "and I feel a grave responsibility for having done that. These were people who could have been rescued had it not been for the reactor accident. It was double pain for me."

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