3/14/16 KNDO/KNDU: Disaster Accountability Project claims emergency preparedness around Columbia Generating Station is inadequate


Disaster Accountability Project claims emergency preparedness around Columbia Generating Station is inadequate

Posted: Mar 14, 2016 6:42 PM EDT

Updated: Mar 14, 2016 6:42 PM EDT

Posted by Morgan Ashley

NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

HANFORD, WA- An organization called the Disaster Accountability Project released a study they say shows emergency planning around the Columbia Generating Station, the nuclear reactor near Hanford is “dangerously inadequate”.

“I do think that they are kind of using a sensationalistic type of approach. We all do have plans, we all do exercise, we exercise those plans every year. FEMA and the nuclear regulatory commission are constantly in here evaluating our plans and evaluating our exercises,” Sean Davis, Director of Franklin County Emergency Management explained.

The east coast based Disaster Accountability Project, a non-profit formed post-Hurricane Katrina conducted a four month study through public information requests to analyze how prepared our area is to handle a disaster at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station. “We could not get some of the reports that we asked these jurisdictions for. They should have been able to provide them,” said Disaster Accountability Project Executive Director Ben Smilowitz.

DAP asked for public educational materials, hazard plans and emergency plans specific to Columbia Generating Station from seven counties surrounding the reactor.

“We have river sirens as well as sirens that were put out in residential areas. Franklin County actually has 21 new sirens that were installed this year. I think our folks are pretty well taken care of and informed,” explained Davis.

However, the project claims only one county provided them with information on shadow evacuations, those go beyond the federally required 10 mile radius. “We meet the federal requirements, nuclear power has been around for a long time and these federal requirements are because of things they saw in the past,” Jeremy Beck, Emergency Manager for Benton County, said.

Benton County, the City of Richland, Grant County, City of Kennewick, Adams County, Walla Walla County, Yakima and Kittitas County did not have these plans on file or did not provide them, according to the study.

“If the neighboring jurisdictions are not planning effectively, then it is very possible that people from inside that 10 mile zone just won’t be able to get out,” Smilowitz explained.

Benton and Franklin County Emergency Management teams say all the same data provided through Franklin County applies to Benton as well. “We do take those shadow evacuations into our planning, into consideration when we do the exercises. We are always looking at, ‘Hey, do we need to evacuate further? What else do we need to do?’,” explained Beck.

Although each county is meeting its government requirement, the Disaster Accountability Project believes residents should know about the risks and learn from disasters like Fukushima. “We want local residents of Benton, Franklin, Grant, Adams, Walla Walla, and Yakima county to tell their local emergency managers and local county officials that they want planning. Even if Washington is not going to mandate it,” Smilowitz concluded.

NBC Right Now also spoke with Mike Paoli, a spokesperson for Energy Northwest. Paoli, along with emergency management meet with Washington State Agriculture representatives, Washington State Emergency Management, Washington State Health Department representatives, Benton and Franklin Heath, Department of Energy representatives and surrounding counties as well as the State of Oregon on a regular basis.

Both local emergency management teams say you can sign up for alerts through their Code Red system by clicking here for Franklin County and here for Benton County.