For Immediate Release:

CONTACT: Ben Smilowitz / / (202) 556-3023

Download Report Here:  https://disasteraccountability.orgwp-content/uploads/2016/03/DAP-Columbia-Generating-Station-Report.pdf

ROCKVILLE, MD — Emergency and evacuation planning related to radiological incidents at the Columbia Generating Station (Columbia) located near Richland, Washington are dangerously inadequate, according to an investigation by Disaster Accountability Project (DAP). Columbia is approximately 200 miles from Seattle.

Federal regulations require “emergency planning zones” or EPZs within 10 miles of U.S. nuclear power plants. Jurisdictions located in EPZs must develop evacuation protocols for responding to radiological incidents and provide residents living within these zones annual information on protective actions for radiological emergencies.

Outside the 10-mile zones, local governments are not required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to plan for radiological emergency evacuations, or to educate the general public on what to do in the event of a radiological emergency.

The 10-mile guidelines remain unchanged after the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, where Japan evacuated residents within a 19-mile radius and the NRC recommended a 50-mile evacuation zone for American citizens.

In the event of an emergency, many residents living beyond the 10-mile “emergency planning zone” of Columbia are likely to voluntarily evacuate. According to a 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, without planning and regular public information, such voluntary “shadow evacuations” can complicate the evacuation of people most immediately in danger, for instance, by putting additional traffic on roadways. In response, the NRC claimed that additional planning is unnecessary, emphasizing that “[s]tate and local authorities have a robust capacity to effectively evacuate the public in response to life-threatening emergencies.”

Between October 2015 and January 2016, DAP contacted 9 jurisdictions within a 50-mile radius of Columbia, seeking documents and information related to radiological preparedness, including evacuation planning. All 9 jurisdictions provided some kind of a response. The 9 jurisdictions DAP contacted are: Benton County, Franklin County, City of Richland, Grant County, City of Kennewick, Adams County, Walla Walla County, Yakima County, and Kittitas County.

Key findings include:

All 3 jurisdictions within 10 miles of Columbia and 2 out of 6 jurisdictions between 10-50 miles of Columbia reported providing educational materials or plans to residents regarding how to respond to a radiological incident at that plant.

9 out of 9 (100%) of the jurisdictions provided all-hazard emergency plans and/or evacuation plans.

7 out of 9 (78%) of the jurisdictions provided emergency plans specific to radiological incidents at Columbia.

Only 1 out of 9 jurisdictions (Franklin County) furnished a shadow evacuation plan or study.

DAP agrees with the GAO report’s conclusion that further study is required to understand the level of public knowledge and the likely public reaction to a nuclear plant emergency, beyond the current 10-mile emergency planning zone.

Since the NRC recommended a 50-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, a radiation spill at Columbia would likely result in a “shadow evacuation” of citizens beyond a 10-mile radius, for which citizens and disaster response teams are unprepared.

“Most communities situated ten or more miles from nuclear power plants do not plan for radiological emergencies simply because Washington doesn’t require it,” said Ben Smilowitz, Executive Director, Disaster Accountability Project. “Most people who live 20, 30, or 40 miles away from plants do not realize that their communities are only adhering to bare-minimum standards for radiological emergency preparedness.”

“This report’s findings should serve as a wake-up call to local communities that if Washington is not going to demand emergency planning, residents should demand it themselves. We hope residents of these communities will call on their local governments to do more, regardless of any mandate from Washington,” Smilowitz said.

“We should learn the lessons of past disasters and not repeat them. In the five years since Fukushima, we had an opportunity to prepare communities for the unexpected. Over 100 million Americans are at greater risk because of a failure to plan.”


After an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the Japanese Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, over 150,000 Japanese citizens were evacuated within 19 miles of the stricken plant due to the presence of radiological plumes. The NRC recommended that U.S. citizens evacuate from as far as 50 miles of the plant. This distance exceeds the current mandatory planning zone of 10-miles, and the NRC has not satisfactorily reconciled this disparity between current planning and real-world guidance.

DAP’s series of reports on U.S. radiological evacuation planning can be found at https://disasteraccountability.orgnews-media/reports/.

The nonprofit Disaster Accountability Project saves lives and reduces suffering after disasters by maximizing the impact of preparedness, response and relief through citizen oversight and engagement, policy research and advocacy, and public education. Connect with Disaster Accountability Project at