WASHINGTON -- April 5 -- Public petitioners including New York county legislators, national nuclear watchdog groups and a host of statewide environmental and public safety organizations met with a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) review board today to demand the federal regulator address the widespread and recurring failure of emergency notification systems at commercial nuclear power plants. Every time the power goes out, nuclear reactor sites around the country lose power to their siren systems within the 10-mile radius Emergency Planning Zones. Moreover, the NRC cannot currently identify all of the sites where these periodic failures can occur, nor does it require reactor operators to do anything about it. The petitioners want NRC to require all nuclear utilities to equip emergency notification systems with backup power sources independent from the electrical grid. This would ensure that in the event of an accident or an act of terrorism accompanied by a collapse of the grid, there is reasonable assurance that the public can be promptly notified of a radiological emergency.
It is irresponsible of the NRC to leave the public both literally and figuratively in the dark about a potential radiological emergency during a power outage, said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for Washington, DC-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Worse still, the NRC is also in the dark about which sirens would fail. This problem can and must be fixed immediately by installing independent and preferably solar-powered siren systems.
Its no secret that NRC has allowed the nuclear industry to operate with inadequate emergency plans for the public, said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizens national energy program. The fact that many of these siren systems wont work when the grid fails is one glaring example that can no longer be tolerated.
Seventeen environmental and public interest groups as well as three New York county legislative assemblies around Indian Point petitioned NRC for emergency enforcement action at the nations reactors on February 23, 2005.
[See petition http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/emergency/ep2206petitionsirens02232005.pdf]
Some nuclear power station operators have battery back up systems for emergency notification sirens in the event of collapse of the electrical grid. However, a review of NRC event reports documented in the petition reveals that a significant number of sites have repeatedly lost power to portions, and even entire emergency siren systems. One such example is the Indian Point nuclear plant thirty miles north of New York City. NRC does not currently require that operators provide emergency back up power systems or batteries to assure operable public notification systems as required under federal law. Instead, NRC allows for licensees to rely on mobile route alerting where police patrol cars and other first responders would drive around the emergency planning zones with loud speakers or bull horns to alert populations to an accident or act of terrorism. The petitioners charge that under a fast breaking accident, adverse weather or act of terrorism this relaxation of emergency planning is inadequate and unacceptable.
The public has initiated the formal process under federal law (10 CFR 2.206) with NRC where, if the petition is accepted, the federal agency would convene hearings with affected nuclear licensees on the requested emergency enforcement action. In this case, the petitioners have requested that NRC first identify and quantify the number of nuclear power station emergency planning zones where emergency notification systems lose power during grid failure due to adverse weather, mechanical failure or potentially an act of sabotage in advance of an attack on a nuclear power station by terrorists. The petitioners have further requested that all of the affected licensees then be required to back fit emergency siren systems with backup power systems, preferably solar power, to assure the operation of the system to notify the public throughout a radiological emergency corresponding with the loss of grid power.
The list of known nuclear power stations that simultaneously lose power with grid failure to the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone notification systems includes: Indian Point, Nine Mile Point and Ginna (NY), Diablo Canyon (CA), Summer (SC), Braidwood and Clinton (IL), Peach Bottom (PA), Hope Creek (NJ), Calvert Cliffs (MD), Surry (VA), Point Beach and Kewaunee (WI), Brunswick (GA), and Watts Bar (TN).