Opinion Blog: Are United States Power Plants Prepared for Disaster?

May 6, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

Posted by Lesley Isaacs
lisaacs@smu.edu

The nuclear power plants in the United States are not prepared for a disaster like the one that recently hit Japan.

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan dramatically affected the nuclear power plants in the immediate area. While Japan is struggling to contain the damage and prevent further exposure of the radiation, many are left wondering if the United States is prepared for such a crisis.

There are currently over 100 nuclear power plants generating electrical energy throughout the United States. They are regulated by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission based in Washington D.C. The commission also regulates about 36 research and test reactors that are primarily located at universities where they are used for research, testing, and training.

In Japan, one of the main problems is the continuing evacuation of residents around power plants. The evacuation zones are growing as the destruction of nuclear reactors in power plants increases. This puts their residents in serious danger of radiation exposure.

The United States also has numerous power plants that are active in highly populated areas. If there is an incident where a radiation leak exceeds the federal government protective action guides, the power plant representatives are required to give recommendations to the state or local government within 15 minutes. They must also inform the NRC within one hour of a radiation release that could affect the public health and safety.

Although action guides require quick notification, citizens could be exposed to radiation from these nuclear power plants for an hour before they are informed there is a danger. Japan has taken precautions to decrease the exposure the nuclear power plant employees are getting but what about the citizens who might be exposed?

Would the United States be able to evacuate quickly enough so that residents wouldn’t be exposed? If not, there could be longterm effects. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said many survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs in the 1940s and many of the firefighters who first responded after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident in 1986 became ill with ARS (Acute Radiation Syndrome).

The fact that the United States has active power plants and is conducting research in such populated areas only strengthens the case that we would not be prepared for a disaster to happen. The surrounding areas would be damaged from a disaster that destroyed the power plants, which have the capability of leaking radiation into the air.

President Obama and Congress need to step up and make sure that the nuclear power plants in the United States are up to date on regulations and emergency preparedness. We certainly don’t need another situation the like the Gulf oil spill.