NBC12 Investigates: Possible changes to Lake Anna evacuation zone

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - An expert panel now recommends the U.S. customize emergency plans for each of the nation's 65 nuclear power plants. The report came out Thursday, on the eve of the anniversary of Japan's tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The 40-page report is from a committee for the American Nuclear Society. A panel of experts, including a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), concludes that U.S. nuclear power oversight is adequate to protect the public health and safety, but that emergency zones "should not be based on arbitrary mileage designations." Currently, power companies only drill for a 10-mile evacuation area around power plants.

During the nuclear crisis last year in Japan the NRC recommended that Americans within 50 miles of that plant evacuate.  50 miles around North Anna would include all of I-64 West of Charlottesville, all of Fredericksburg, Ashland, Short Pump, even downtown Richmond would be in the evacuation zone.

The 10-mile zones have been in effect since 1978. They were created to protect the closest communities to a power plant where it's believed, in the event of an accident, the most deaths are predicted.

In an interview earlier this year, the NRC head for our region maintained 10 mile zones are enough because nuclear meltdowns don't happen in a matter of minutes, they take days to play out.

"There's time to make those decision and there's time to move people for that type of evacuation if necessary to occur," said Victor McCree.

Dominions nuclear spokesperson, Richard Zuercher, had not seen the panel's report and said he could not comment on it, but agrees studies show nuclear disasters take days to unfold and there's time to adjust evacuation plans. He did say Dominion is in regular contact with emergency officials inside the 10 mile zone around North Anna.

"We are required just to operate the station to have an emergency plan and be able to demonstrate that it's effective. and we do that exercises that are graded by the NRC and FEMA every two years," said Zuercher.

The NRC did approve a new rule in August requiring power plants to update estimates on how long it would take to evacuate nearby communities in an emergency. Plant operators now have to updated evacuation times after every 10 year census. The commission has not publicly addressed the evacuation distance issue.

To see NBC12's previous investigations on nuclear power plant evacuation zones click here.

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