Statement of Norm Cohen, July 7th, 2004:

Paul Gunter of NIRS contributed to this statement.

  As we gather here in Salem for yet another Evacuation Plan public meeting, the question as to whether or not the Plan will work has taken on added importance due to recent revelations about how unsafe all three of PSEG’s nukes are.

Let me review some of the reasons we feel your plan won’t work: A chief flaw is that the Plan does not take into consideration the natural inclinations of people to protect themselves and their families in the event of a nuclear accident.

The lessons learned from the Three Mile Island accident provide a very important experience for emergency planners to seriously consider in determining the viability of executing their nuclear accident emergency plan. A study into the human response in the aftermath of TMI was published in "Evacuation Behavior In Response To Nuclear Power Plant Accidents," by Donald Zeigler and James Johnson, Jr. in the May, 1984 issue of The Professional Geographer.

Here are some of their findings:

  1. To plan for only a 10 mile evacuation is to significantly under plan for a nuclear power station accident.

The 10-mile emergency planning zone is a politically arbitrary distance. It has no bases in meteorology, radiation releases mechanisms and human behavior. In fact studies of human behavior following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, where a limited evacuation advisory was issued by Pennsylvania Governor Thornberg, provides evidence that people will be spontaneously leaving their homes well beyond the current 10-mile planning zones. This human behavior phenomenon has been termed the "evacuation shadow effect." This evacuation shadow is determined by people who believe themselves to be at risk who evacuate even though they have not been ordered or advised to do so by officials. The study of human behavior around the Three Mile Island accident showed that if only the government advised people, specifically pregnant mothers and pre-school children, had left a 5 mile radius, that number would have been about 3400 evacuees. Instead, up to as many as 200,000 people actually evacuated, approximately 39% of the population within 15 miles of the reactor. The "shadow" evacuation phenomenon is not expected to begin to diminish until approximately 25-miles out from the reactor. The study found that in addition to the high rate of voluntary evacuation, those evacuees tended to travel distances much greater than has been observed in previous studies on non-nuclear related evacuation behavior (hurricanes, floods, etc.). The TMI study evidenced that the median distanced traveled by evacuees was 85 miles. The NRC commissioned a study (Flynn 1979) that evidenced an average distance of 100 miles of travel.

  1. To locate all the public shelters and reception centers immediately beyond the 10-mile EPZ is to invite under-utilization and chaos.

Currently all shelters and reception centers for evacuees within the current planning zone are located in a 10-20 mile range from the reactor. Anyone who takes shelter in them will likely watch the resident population from that zone pack into their cars and heads farther away. Ionizing radiation is such a dreaded invisible threat people will want to put as much distance as possible between them and the accident site.

  1. To depend on buses to evacuate populations without cars (school children, the elderly, and prison and hospital populations) is to ignore role conflicts within the emergency personnel designated as drivers and vital to successful evacuation.

Those people who are depended upon to drive buses are not likely to be professional emergency workers. They may not respond, especially if they have family of their own. They may delay response as a result of role conflict between emergency duty and home. It is reasonable to assume that they are most likely to tend to their families first. Social surveys of personnel with assigned emergency duties indicate the strong potential for role conflict to interfere with the management of a nuclear emergency. Research conducted in the vicinity of the now closed Shoreham nuclear power station on Long Island, NY questioned bus drivers and volunteer fireman "What do you think you would do first if an accident requiring a full scale evacuation of the population within 10 miles of the nuclear reactor were to occur?"

The results found that 68% of 291 fire fighters, 73% of the 246 bus drivers indicated that family obligations would take precedence over emergency duties. The consequence of such choice would be a failed response to the nuclear emergency.

Additionally, during the TMI accident role conflict was documented among many emergency workers including the exodus of physicians, nurses, and technicians required to staff both the short term and long term medical facilities. At one local hospital, only six of 70 physicians who were scheduled for weekend emergency duty reported for work. None of the hospitals researched in the study were in the 5 mile radius of the evacuation advisory. Other instances where role conflict occurred were the Pennsylvania National Guard and even nuclear power plant workers.

  1. To package information for radiological accident emergency planning as similar to an emergency response to other disasters (i.e. hurricanes) is to ignore that there are major differences in how people respond to these very different events.

Nuclear power plant operators and emergency planners characterize nuclear power plant disaster planning as no different than that for a hurricane or some other disaster. The public clearly perceives a difference of threat and consequences from a nuclear meltdown and that of a hurricane. But nuclear utilities, emergency planners and the NRC refuse to acknowledge these distinct differences in actual threat, public perceptions and fears of the harm that can occur as the result of a nuclear power accident on scale of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, and other catastrophes. The harm derived from a nuclear accident both short term and long term includes deadly radiation sickness, cancer, birth defects and spontaneous abortions. The magnitude of public response to be greater than an evacuation from a natural disaster should be acknowledged and factored into emergency planning.

5) To expect to "manage" the evacuation response is not realistic.

People will manage their own evacuation response. They will head out in their own cars as quickly as possible and try to get on the few available roads and will slow the entire evacuation process down. They will end up in traffic jams in bottlenecks that are beyond the evacuation zones that will likely trap the intended evacuees in traffic jams closer to the nuclear reactor and most immediately under any escaping radiation plume.

Ultimately, the only relevant protection, however, is prevention. If you want real civil defense, then we must shut these dangerous and aging reactors down.


Norm Cohen

321 Barr Ave, Linwood NJ 08221