Site of a near catastrophic meltdown in 1966, the Fermi plant has a notorious history. New findings indicate emergency and evacuation planning for the surrounding community are dangerously inadequate.
MONROE, MI — Emergency and evacuation planning related to radiological incidents at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station (Fermi Plant) located in Frenchtown Charter Township, Michigan are dangerously inadequate, according to an investigation by Disaster Accountability Project (DAP). The Fermi Plant is less than 50 miles from both Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.
Federal regulations require “emergency planning zones” or EPZs within 10 miles of U.S. nuclear power plants. Jurisdictions located in EPZs must develop evacuation protocols for responding to radiological incidents and provide residents living within these zones annual information on protective actions for radiological emergencies.
Outside the 10-mile zones, local governments are not required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to plan for radiological emergency evacuations, or to educate the general public on what to do in the event of a radiological emergency.
The 10-mile guidelines remain unchanged after the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, where Japan evacuated residents within a 19-mile radius and the NRC recommended a 50-mile evacuation zone for American citizens.
In the event of an emergency, many residents living beyond the 10-mile “emergency planning zone” of the Fermi Plant are likely to voluntarily evacuate. According to a 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, without planning and regular public information, such voluntary “shadow evacuations” can complicate the evacuation of people most immediately in danger, for instance, by putting additional traffic on roadways. In response, the NRC claimed that additional planning is unnecessary, emphasizing that “[s]tate and local authorities have a robust capacity to effectively evacuate the public in response to life-threatening emergencies.”
In August 2015, DAP contacted 22 jurisdictions within a 50-mile radius of the Fermi Plant, seeking documents and information related to radiological preparedness, including evacuation planning. Only 19 of these jurisdictions provided any kind of a response. The 22 jurisdictions DAP contacted are: in Michigan, Monroe County, Lenawee County, Washtenaw County, City of Detroit, Wayne County, City of Dearborn, City of Livonia, City of Ann Arbor, Oakland County, Macomb County, Warren County, Livingston County, and Sterling Heights; in Ohio, Lucas County, City of Toledo, Ottawa County, Wood County, Sandusky County, Fulton County, Erie County, Henry County, and Seneca County.
Key findings include:
The only jurisdiction within 10 miles of the Fermi Plant and 1 out of 21 jurisdictions between 10-50 miles of the Fermi Plant reported providing educational materials or plans to residents regarding how to respond to a radiological incident at that plant.
8 out of 22 (36%) of the jurisdictions provided all-hazard emergency plans and/or evacuation plans.
Only 1 out of 22 (5%) of the jurisdictions provided emergency plans specific to radiological incidents at the Fermi Plant.
No jurisdiction furnished a shadow evacuation plan or study.
DAP agrees with the GAO report’s conclusion that further study is required to understand the level of public knowledge and the likely public reaction to a nuclear plant emergency, beyond the current 10-mile emergency planning zone.
Since the NRC recommended a 50-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, a radiation spill at the Fermi Plant would likely result in a “shadow evacuation” of citizens beyond a 10-mile radius, for which citizens and disaster response teams are unprepared.
“Most communities situated ten or more miles from nuclear power plants do not plan for radiological emergencies simply because Washington doesn’t require it,” said Ben Smilowitz, Executive Director, Disaster Accountability Project. “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. We hope residents of these communities will call on their local governments to do more, regardless of any mandate from Washington,” Smilowitz said.
“We should learn the lessons of past disasters and not repeat them. In the five years since Fukushima, we had an opportunity to prepare communities for the unexpected. Over 100 million Americans are at greater risk because of a failure to plan.”
After an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the Japanese Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, over 150,000 Japanese citizens were evacuated within 19 miles of the stricken plant due to the presence of radiological plumes. The NRC recommended that U.S. citizens evacuate from as far as 50 miles of the plant. This distance exceeds the current mandatory planning zone of 10-miles, and the NRC has not satisfactorily reconciled this disparity between current planning and real-world guidance.
DAP’s series of reports on U.S. radiological evacuation planning can be found at http://disasteraccountability.org/news-media/reports/.
The nonprofit Disaster Accountability Project saves lives and reduces suffering after disasters by maximizing the impact of preparedness, response and relief through citizen oversight and engagement, policy research and advocacy, and public education. Connect with Disaster Accountability Project at http://www.disasteraccountability.org.