3/11/16 Lompoc Record: Report says nuke evacuation planning woefully inadequate for SM, Lompoc


Report says nuke evacuation planning woefully inadequate for SM, Lompoc

April Charlton acharlton@leecentralcoastnews.com

On the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster in Japan, where residents within 19 miles of the meltdown were forced from their homes, the 10-mile evacuation guidelines for such events in the United States remain unchanged.

But at least one group is hoping to amend those guidelines or get communities where nuclear power plants are located — and those within a fairly close proximity — to plan for an emergency, even if it’s not mandated by the federal government.

In a report released Friday by the nonprofit Disaster Accountability Project, investigators found emergency and evacuation planning related to radiological incidents at Diablo Canyon Power Plant are “dangerously inadequate,” especially for communities more than 10 miles away from the plant, like Santa Maria, Lompoc and San Luis Obispo.

“It’s not even on their radar,” said Ben Smilowitz, Disaster Accountability Project executive director.

Federal regulations require emergency planning zones, also known as EPZs, within 10 miles of such nuclear power plants as Diablo Canyon, a twin-reactor plant that sits on the coast between Avila Beach and Los Osos.

San Luis Obispo County is responsible for developing and implementing, if necessary, a local EPZ, which in that county stretches beyond the mandated 10-mile radius but is still viewed as inadequate by the group headed by Smilowitz.

“We aren’t here to point fingers at San Luis Obispo County,” he said, noting the county does go above and beyond what’s federally required, but if neighboring communities aren’t planning, too, the effort is for naught.

“I think the meat and bones (of the report) is whether these jurisdictions have (shadow evacuation plans),” he added. “There are only a couple ways out. That’s the need for planning within the zones.”

Outside the zones, local governments are not required to plan for radiological emergency evacuations or educate the general public on what to do in the event of such an emergency.

The report looked at nine juridictions — San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Monterey and Kern counties and the cities of Atascadero, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Lompoc.

The report reveals only one of the nine jurisdictions — San Luis Obispo County — and zero of seven located between 10 and 50 miles of Diablo Canyon reported providing educational materials or plans to residents in the event of an emergency at the plant.

Additionally, only three of the nine also provided emergency plans specific to a disaster at Diablo.

Santa Barbara County responded that it doesn’t have independent plans specific to radiological incidents, and local emergency planning efforts are based on those maintained and provided by San Luis Obispo County, according to the report.

Lompoc didn’t respond to questions asked for the report, and Santa Maria responded with a copy of San Luis Obispo County’s Nuclear Power Emergency Response Plan.

Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon said he thinks the current evacuation plans for the area are adequate.

“I would say you can never overplan for an emergency or evacuation; however, having said that, Santa Maria has never been involved in discussions that we would actually have to evacuate ourselves,” Haydon said. “That’s why we’re the safe zones for the evacuees coming into this area.”

The plan for Five Cities residents, along with those from the Nipomo area, is to evacuate to Santa Maria in the event of an emergency at Diablo.

Haydon also said he thinks the information shared by the nuclear power plant is extensive.

“There is an evacuation plan that Diablo Canyon has done,” he said. “They’ve had it for over 20 years now and send it out to residents on a regular basis, along with a community calendar, and emphasize what the evacuation process is for the area where the residents live.”

Smilowitz said in the absence of the federal government changing its regulations to expand the current radius for nuclear emergency planning zones, it’s the goal of the Disaster Accountability Project to get citizens to petition their local governments to plan for such emergencies.

“We really want to prevent something like (Fukushima) from happening here,” Smilowitz said.

A copy of the report can be viewed at www.disasteraccountability.org/news-media/reports.

Staff writer Abby Hamblin contributed to this report.

April Charlton covers South San Luis Obispo County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @WordsDawn.