Officials review Cumberland, Salem counties emergency evacuation plans

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BRIDGETON - State health, emergency and environmental officials reviewed evacuation and other emergency plans to be implemented in the event of a serious problem at any of the three nuclear power generators at Artificial Island generating complex, in Salem County.

The plans came under some question, as one Ocean City resident - stating he represented both a radiation research project and the nuclear safety watchdog group UNPLUG Salem - expressed uncertainty that the state's plan would be able to successfully evacuate residents in Salem and, if necessary, Cumberland County.

"Our position, as stated every year by (UNPLUG Salem President) Norm Cohen, continues to be that the evacuation plan, as currently written, will not work - especially in the hopefully unlikely chance of a catastrophic accident that happens quickly, before the evacuation plan could even be put in motion," said Joseph Mangano, an associate coordinator at UNPLUG Salem and executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, which studies cancer diagnosis's near nuclear plants.

He added: "In respect to Cumberland County, because there are larger population centers - Millville, Vineland and Bridgeton - and because, with the exception of Route 55, all of the major evacuation routes are two-lane, evacuation of this area would be extremely difficult."

However, state officials, including representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Nuclear Engineering, Department of Health and Senior Services and the Office of Emergency Management Division of the New Jersey State Police, stood by their plan.

In answering Managan's concerns, they stated stockpiles of potassium iodine would be made available at Bridgeton High School in the event of an emergency in order to protect residents from thyroid cancer. Also, they assured those present that their plan takes into account summer traffic patterns, including shore traffic, in South Jersey.

NJDEP Bureau of Nuclear Engineering Manager Patrick Mulligan said the state officials conduct more than the required amount of safety drills per yearat its nuclear generators. He added there are many ways safety interactions can be relayed to the public in case of a problem.

"We're required to conduct an exercise at the nuclear power plants every other year, but because of the number we have here we do it every year," said Mulligan. "We set up fictitious scenarios and go through them.

"We do about four total of these each year."

He added officials would use a public address system, such as loud speakers or sirens, to alert residents of an emergency.

Artificial Island generating complex, located in Lower Alloways Creek Township, contains a total of three reactors - two at the Salem Generating Station and one at the Hope Creek Generating Station.

A fourth nuclear reactor is located in Lacey Township, Ocean County, at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

Utility company PSE&G, which operates the Hope Creek Generating Station and the majority of the Salem Generating Station, has been exploring the option to build another reactor in New Jersey.

Despite what Mangano describes as "discussions" taking place on placing the state's fifth nuclear reactor in Cumberland County, Mulligan states that will not happen.

"To our knowledge PSE&G is not pursuing a reactor in Cumberland County," said Mulligan. "We think they'll be submitting a proposal in 2011, but it will be for one of the (Salem County) sites."

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