Critics question Shearon Harris emergency plans

Photo courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission

March 18, 2011 5:09:25 AM PDT
Progress Energy sends out safety information manuals annually to everyone living within ten miles of the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant, but critics say if something goes wrong at the plant, not nearly enough thought has gone into keeping people safe.

The ABC11 I-Team reviewed the emergency plans currently in place.

Jim Warren runs the nuclear watchdog group NC Warn and what's happening in Japan is fuel for his message that nuclear power is not safe. He also says not enough is being done to make sure when things go wrongs, people don't suffer.

"I'm frustrated that emergency planning has not been advanced more over the years," Warren said.

But Wake County's Emergency Management Director Josh Creighton says planning has been meticulous. Reams of plans of action have been written with the county and state in charge of the entire response.

"We're responsible for setting off the sirens, we're responsible for the messages that come out over the emergency broadcast system," Creighton said.

Along with sirens scattered throughout the ten mile radius and around the plant and potassium iodide tablets given to people who live in the zone, Creighton says response plans include evacuation routes, decontamination areas, shelters and medical response. He says Emergency Management has tried to think of everything.

Warren worries the department hasn't scratched the surface of what could go wrong.

"There is the potential for chaotic type situations in trying to conduct an evacuation under emergency conditions," Warren said.

Perhaps the biggest concern is how far away is safe? Ten miles is the industry standard, but the U.S. government is recommending that Americans in Japan get at least 50 miles away from the plant.

Creighton says he doesn't know why the government is recommending a larger safe distance in Japan.

"I'm curious to get that answer myself," he said. "They may have new information, they may have new assessment, but we don't know if they do. We don't. I'm very curious to see what kind of science comes out of this event. Maybe it'll change our planning process.

State and local governments are responsible for all emergency response outside of Shearon Harris gates. Outside the gates is where Progress Energy's responsibility ends.

To read the Progress Energy safety manual, click here.

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