A year removed from a scare in Japan after a massive tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility, the safety and security of nuclear power has become a discussion point nationwide. Cleanup and decontamination from the meltdown could take years, or decades, and will continue to fuel international debate on the safety of nuclear power.
In recognition of the anniversary, the American Nuclear Society commissioned a study of America’s 104 nuclear reactors, and the level of emergency preparedness surrounding each one. The report, released Thursday, shows generally favorable results, but does suggest that the 10-mile Emergency Preparedness Zone surrounding each nuclear power plant could be re-evaluated and expanded.
According to Bill Stoermer, communications director for Exelon’s Quad-Cities Generating Station plant in Cordova, citizens in the local EPZ and beyond have little reason to fear. The nuclear power plant works with government agencies in two states and four counties to ensure that all possible contingencies are covered at all times.
“We run multiple drills throughout the year to ensure that we can protect the health and safety of the public at all times,” Stoermer said.
But the likelihood of ever needing to enact a public safety contingency is extremely remote.
“While it’s important that we have a plan, we’re very confident that nuclear energy is among the safest, cleanest and most reliable sources of electric generation available to consumers today,” he said.
An unlikely series of circumstances led to the Fukushima failure on March 11, 2011, according to Stoermer. The Japanese plant, built in an earthquake-prone area, withstood the 9.0 magnitude quake without failing. Stoermer said the plant reacted as it was designed to in the wake of the event, and began shutting down and safely cooling the reactors.
Unfortunately, a tsunami of unprecedented size and power pounded Japan soon after the earthquake. That, Stoermer said, is what ultimately led to the reactor failing.
“It was a very unique situation, and well above the design basis for that facility,” Stoermer said.
Worries of a similar event happening in Cordova would be unfounded, he said. For one, the odds of a tsunami reaching this far in land are beyond remote. And two, Stoermer said multiple safeguards are built into the system to ensure the public is kept safe in the event of a catastrophe.
The station is protected from flooding by watertight doors and specially engineered flood barries. The station is capable of automatically shutting down and cooling the nuclear fuel, even if cut off from the electricity grid. And five-feet thick concrete walls shield the reactors and other critical components.
Clinton County Emergency Management Director Chance Kness said he has shelves full of documentation detailing numerous nuclear emergency contingencies. But, even though he conducts training exercises on an annual basis, Kness said that nuclear reactor meltdown is near the bottom of his list of worries.
“There is so much planning and exercises for (a nuclear emergency, but) it’s very unlikely,” he said. “There’s a lot of attention with Fukushima, but we have to understand that it was a tsunami that caused that failure. We’re not subject to tsunamis in the midwest.”
Regardless, Kness said that emergency management conducts a registration center set up and practice every year in Goose Lake and Eldridge. The two towns are designated as rendezvous areas in the event of an evacuation event.
Kness also performs biannual FEMA evaluated evacuation exercises, one of which is scheduled for this December. Each one of these exercises is preceeded by practice sessions and other training measures.
“The reason we do so much for the nuclear plant, even though (a nuclear emergency) has a very, very low likelihood of occurring, we also realize that the impact would be huge,” Kness said. “Any time you’re talking about part of the area being inaccessible for years after the event would have a massive impact.”
Stoermer said that the 48,000 members of the public living in the EPZ are kept abreast of safety procedures through an annual brochure that is mailed to their homes.
According to a statement released earlier this week from Exelon, the company is aware of public concerns following the Fukushima incident. Since then, Exelon has revised more than 1,300 safety procedures and guidelines, and has established new ones where necessary. The company has also tested and challenged sites to ensure that each meets the necessary standards for disaster preparedness.
“Exelon Nuclear is dedicated to full transparency,” said Pacilio, in the release. “We know that the more the public knows about the safety of the U.S. nuclear industry, the more confident they feel about nuclear power as a source of safe, abundant, and clean energy.”