Shoreham Evacuation Plan; Staging Lilco's Nuclear Follies

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Staging Lilco's Nuclear Follies

On February 13 the Administration of the actorPresident produced an extraordinary drama. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted a test to see if the area around Long Island Lighting Company's unpopular nuclear power plant at Shoreham, New York, could be safely evacuated. State and local officials refused to participate, so their parts were taken by stand-ins provided by the Los Angeles consulting firm Theodore Barry and Associates. Samuel Speck, FEMA associate director, denied charges by Suffolk County and other Shoreham opponents that a staged test didn't prove anything about the plant's safety. Evacuation drills, he explained, are "not meant to disrupt the public's normal routine."

The premise for the Shoreham drama came from a regulation promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the wake of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. All new nuclear plants must have locally developed evacuation plans before they can receive a license to operate.

At Three Mile Island, as at most other nuclear power plants, people could escape in many directions in the event of a serious accident. But Long Island would be impossible to evacuate, according to a $650,000 study conducted by Suffolk County. Long Island's only direct links to the mainland are the crowded tunnels and bridges at its western end. Its main road, the six-lane east-west Long Island Expressway, usually lives up to comedians' description of it as the world's longest parking lot.

If there was a major accident at Shoreham, near the center of the island, people who live east of the plant would have the choice of driving into the ocean or the radioactivity. Those to the west would enter a traffic jam of epic proportions. Highways all over the island, the county's study showed, would be hopelessly snarled.

For that reason both Suffolk County and New York State have refused to propose an evacuation plan for Shoreham. So the company, commonly known as Lilco, drew up its own plan and thought to test it with its own employees. The state and county challenged the plan, and the State Supreme Court ruled it an illegal usurpation of the police powers of local government. "Lilco has to realize," declared Justice William Geiler this is a government of law and not of men or private corporations." Two licensing boards of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also called the plan illegal. After the court defeat, FEMA and Lilco came up with the idea of using stand-ins.

Last November the commission approved the test, under pressure from the Reagan Administration (former Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger has been paid $20,000 a month to pull strings in Washington for Lilco). The vote was not surprising, considering some of the commissioners' backgrounds. Thomas M. Roberts had been chief "executive officer and president of Southern Boiler Tank Works, which produces boilers for nuclear plants. Adm. Lando Zech had been in the nuclear Navy until his retirement, in 1983. Frederick Bernthal had served as an aide to Senator Howard Baker and had been best known on the Hill as a promoter of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. …