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Vermont Yankee

Mohawk presses NRC to expand evac zone

BUCKLAND — If a 50-mile evacuation radius was recommended for American citizens in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown, why not have the same planning radius for school children living near the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant?

That’s what the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee wonders. It has unanimously endorsed a proposal by Ellen Kaufmann of Buckland to ask the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend evacuation planning from its current 10-mile radius to 50 miles.

Under the current 10-mile radius, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District is outside Vermont Yankee’s Evacuation Planning Zone because the school district is about 18 miles from the nuclear power plant.

The draft letter that Kaufmann gave the school committee points out that the Vermont Nuclear Power Plant “is of the same generation and design as the Fukushima plant. And yet the Evacuation Planning Zone ... is a mere 10 miles. This means that communities outside of the 10 miles receive no assistance in creating emergency response plans, and are thus left to their own devices without benefit of government expertise and support.”

The letter, signed by School Committee Chairman Robert Aeschbach and sent last week, asks for an expanded zone, with public hearings held for the affected communities and possible funding for communities “to institute safety measures they deem necessary.”

Kaufmann said the Mahar Regional and the Swift River schools have forwarded similar requests to the NRC.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says the NRC has been getting similar requests from all over the country.

“This is not an issue that’s limited to Vermont Yankee,” he said. He said the NRC has created a “Japan lessons-learned” task force, “and one of the issues they’ve looked at was whether to expand the emergency planning zone.” He said the task force has decided there was no immediate need to do so, but will continue to gather information from the Fukushima disaster.

He continued, saying the NRC is responsible for on-site emergency planning while FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is responsible for off-site emergency plans. Although both agencies work together, the NRC is ultimately responsible for these emergency planning zones, because it is the licensing authority.

“Every two years, these plants have to do an emergency response (drill), on a 10-mile event, which is graded by FEMA. ... There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into the plan, so expanding it is not something that could occur quickly or easily.”

Also, expanding the emergency planning zone wouldn’t be done on a plant-by-plant basis, he explained.

Sheehan said Vermont Yankee has to perform an emergency exercise every six years that looks at radiation impacts that extend out to 50 miles. He said issues considered include whether livestock within the affected area could graze or would have to be fed stored feed, whether farmers could harvest produce and other logistical matters.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, in Vernon, Vt., was built in 1972 and its license to operate was due to expire in 2012, but the power plant was given a 20-year extension of its license by the NRC in 2011. In 2010, the Vermont Legislature voted not to allow the plant to operate beyond its 2012 closing date, but a court case invalidated the Legislature’s power to veto continued operation.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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