Magazine article Science News

Controversy over Nuclear Evacuation Planning

Magazine article Science News

Controversy over Nuclear Evacuation Planning

Article excerpt

Controversy Over Nuclear Evacuation Planning

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) has historically interpreted the Atomic Energy Act as giving the agency the exclusive authority to license and set safety standards for nuclear plants. For the past six years, however, state and local governments have effectively been able to exercise veto power over the startup of new nuclear power plants, merely by failing to develop or approve emergency-evacuation plans for residents within 10 miles of such plants.

This de facto veto power enables stateand local governments to impose their own, separate licensing standards on plant owners. NRC officials last week proposed removing such power by eliminating the 1980 requirement that nuclear plant licensing be contingent upon state and local government participation in emergency-evacuation planning. Though the proposal has been applauded by nuclear utilities, it is raising protests from lawmakers at all levels of government.

A number of Massachusetts legislators,for example, see the new NRC proposal as a challenge to states' rights, which have already been tested by their governor, Michael Dukakis. Though the completed Seabrook nuclear plant resides in New Hampshire, some Massachusetts residents live only about two miles away. On Sept. 30, 1986, Dukakis refused to approve its evacuation plan when he decided he could not be sure his residents could be evacuated to safety during a severe accident. This has prevented the plant from obtaining an operating license.

But the new NRC proposal would allowthe New Hampshire utility that owns Seabrook to certify Massachusetts's ability to safely evacuate its residents--a clear usurpation of states' rights, according to State Rep. Lawrence R. Alexander, House chairman of the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Energy Committee.

Sen. …

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