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Proposed Emergency Plan Exemption for New Nuclear Designs Raises Concerns

NuScale is developing a nuclear reactor project at the Idaho National Laboratory. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
NuScale is developing a nuclear reactor project at the Idaho National Laboratory. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
July 13, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- A proposal from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission exempting emergency planning for new nuclear plant designs is raising alarms.

The NRC proposal would allow facilities to end emergency preparedness zones at their boundaries.

That zone is currently set at a 10-mile radius around plants and a 50-mile ingestion zone to protect against contaminated food and water.

Timothy Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, says emergency zones have been required since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

"Having the emergency evacuation plans and emergency response plans is part of the social contract with nuclear power and has been in the U.S. for over 40 years now," he points out.

One NRC commissioner says it's a radical departure from past practices.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has expressed concerns about the proposal to exempt the agency from evaluating evacuation plans.

In support of the proposal, the Nuclear Energy Institute says NRC is modernizing the rules for new nuclear power designs that don't have the same risks as old designs.

The NuScale small modular reactor project at the Idaho National Laboratory could benefit from these new rules.

But Judson says exempting this project from emergency planning regulations exposes why these rules are a bad idea.

"They're designed to have 12 of these reactors all built in the same building and together, those 12 reactors would be larger than many commercially operating nuclear reactors in the country right now," he points out.

Judson says the proposal would keep everyone, including utility companies to nearby communities, in the dark on nuclear safety plans.

"Whether you support nuclear power or don't support nuclear power, everyone supports nuclear safety," he stresses.

The NRC is accepting public comment on the proposal through July 27.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID