GLEN ROSE – In a study conducted by the Disaster Accountability Project and released March 11, Ben Smilowitz claims to have found the emergency and evacuation planning to be “dangerously inadequate for 1.9 million people within 50 miles of Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant.”
The DAP report states that between Oct. 2015 and Jan. 2016, 17 jurisdictions within 50 miles of Comanche Peak were contacted – including Somervell and Hood Counties – and asked to provide documentation of “radiological preparedness, including evacuation planning.” According to the report, fourteen of those jurisdictions responded.
DAP began to research the preparedness of communities within a 50-mile radius of power plants across the country following the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant incident in Japan. During the disaster, Japanese officials evacuated residents within a 19-mile radius of the plant which, according to the DAP report, is nine miles greater than what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) require in the U.S.
Despite the response in Japan, federal regulations in the U.S. still require emergency planning zones for only those communities within 10 miles of a nuclear plant. This, according to a finding in the DAP report and a 2013 Government Accountability Office report, may result in citizens outside of the 10-mile evac plan to voluntarily begin “shadow evacuations” that could potentially complicate any plan in place.
“Most communities situated ten or more miles from nuclear power plants do not plan for radiological emergencies simply because Washington doesn’t require it,” DAP Executive Director Ben Smilowitz said. “Most people who live 20, 30, or 40 miles away from plants do not realize that their communities are only adhering to bare-minimum standards for radiological emergency preparedness.”
“This report’s findings should serve as a wake-up call to local communities that if Washington is not going to demand emergency planning, residents should demand it themselves,” Smilowitz continued. “We hope residents of these communities will call on their local governments to do more, regardless of any mandate from Washington.”
Put down the pitchforks, call off the dogs, step back and rest assured, Somervell and Hood County residents. Despite claims made by the DAP in its report, there is, in fact, a quite detailed, prepared and practiced emergency plan in place.
“I can guarantee that we go above the bare minimum,” Somervell County Fire Marshall Dwayne Griffin said. “Bare minimum would be to conduct the FEMA drill every two years, but we drill constantly with Comanche Peak officials, our emergency response team and Hood County’s team.”
In Griffin’s Oct. 19, 2015 response to the information requested by Smilowitz, the Somervell County Emergency Management Coordinator directly addressed the four key findings of the DAP report. Griffin also informed Smilowitz that, while the information is public it could only be viewed during regular business hours.
“Our plans are open record for viewing by citizens during business hours at my office located at the Somervell County Law Enforcement Center,” Griffin stated in his letter. “[…] These plans include vital information regarding responses to events at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant (CPNPP) and as such we do not divulge this information for public viewing outside of this office.”
The reason for Somervell County to require individuals interested in reading the documents in full to physically enter law enforcement center is to help monitor who exactly is viewing the documents and to make sure the information is not be redistributed to terrorist groups, Griffin said.
Somervell County officials took a little over one-calendar year to comb through and align the County’s Annex W to the Radiological Emergency Preparedness manual issued by FEMA, according to Griffin.
Following the most recent Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program conducted June 10, 2015, FEMA found that Somervell County was more than capable of handling a disaster at CPNPP. In fact, the current plan and its execution by the members of the emergency management team was graded a perfect 100 out of 100, according to the after-action report issued July 29, 2015.
“Based on the results of the exercise,” the report states, “the offsite radiological emergency response plans and preparedness for the State of Texas and the affected local jurisdiction are deemed adequate to provide reasonable assurance that appropriate measures can be taken to protect the health and safety of the public in the event of a radiological emergency.”
DAP 'Key Points' debunked
Smilowitz highlighted four key points in his release – all of which were addressed in the response letter penned by Griffin prior to completion of the DAP study.
Point one – False
According to DAP, “0 out of 4 jurisdictions within 10 miles of Comanche Peak and 0 out of 13 jurisdictions between 10-50 miles of Comanche Peak reported providing educational materials or plans to residents regarding how to respond to a radiological incident at that plant.”
Griffin said, “All educational materials provided to residents are handled by CPNPP. CPNPP uses the local phone book for publication of vital information regarding evacuation routes and information.”
Point two – false
According to DAP, “9 out of 17 (53%) of the jurisdictions provided all-hazard emergency plans and/or evacuation plans.”
Griffin said, “Our all-hazard plan encompasses many responses by our Sheriff, Fire, State and Federal agencies. Information to the public is handled by a local radio station KOME, Dallas station WBAP news radio, and CodeRed call-outs from our local dispatch center at the Law Enforcement Center.”
Point three – false
According to DAP, “1 out of 17 (6%) of the jurisdictions provided emergency plans specific to radiological incidents at Comanche Peak.”
Griffin said, “CPNPP’s Evacuation Time Estimate study (ETE) was updated in Dec. 2012 per NRC regulations. Although we have a copy of this plan, CPNPP is the owner of this document. Emergency plans related to our response to an incident at CPNPP contain confidential information.”
Point four – false
According to DAP, “Only 1 out of 17 jurisdictions furnished a shadow evacuation plan or study.”
Griffin said, “Shadow Evacuations are contained in the ETE study maintained by CPNPP.”
For those still skeptical, turn to pages 17-22 of the Lone Star Yellow Pages. Most of the information requested by the DAP can be found there.