In disaster, call may go out to just stay put
By Roger Witherspoon
The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)
July 4, 2003 Friday
Evacuation doubted during fast-breaking nuclear catastrophe
The Journal News
A new study showing it will take nearly twice as long to evacuate people from the
10-mile region around Indian Point as previously believed has led officials in
Westchester and Rockland counties to conclude they could not evacuate residents
following a fast-breaking catastrophe at the nuclear power plants.
Instead, officials said yesterday, they may have to ask everyone to stay in their
homes, jobs and schools while radioactive clouds pass over the area.
The emergency plans developed for the four counties around the plants in Buchanan
have relied on an evacuation time estimate study prepared in 1994 by consultants to
Consolidated Edison, which previously owned Indian Point 2. That traffic study, using
demographic data from the 1990 census, predicted it would take 2y hours for nearly
300,000 residents and workers to mobilize and take to the road, and a total of 5y
hours for everyone to be evacuated.
But new transportation estimates prepared last month by the Commack, Long Island,
firm of KLD Associates for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which now owns Indian Point,
predicts it can take up to four hours for residents to mobilize and up to 10 hours to
evacuate the region in good weather. Traffic congestion from "shadow evacuations,"
people who flee the region from outside the 10-mile zone, would increase those
times, the report found.
A decision by regional officials to order everyone to stay in place and not attempt an
evacuation would first come from Westchester County, which has the lead role in
emergency planning for the nuclear site.
"In a fast-breaking terrorist scenario, it may be more prudent to ask people to
shelter in place rather than put them on the roadways," said Tony Sutton,
Westchester's deputy commissioner of emergency services. "The protection offered
by residences exceeds that offered by a car. We would tell them to stay inside and
minimize their sources of outside air, and we would tell them to take potassium
iodide. We would not have time to set up for an evacuation."
Sutton said that after the radiation source is capped - hours or days after an
incident, depending on the severity - "you can instruct people to evacuate via a
certain route, and try to minimize their exposure to radiation."
"In an immediate emergency, we don't have the capacity in resources or roads to
effect an immediate evacuation," Sutton said.
Dan Greeley, Rockland County's assistant director of fire and emergency services,
said that in a terrorist scenario, "we would probably tell the schools and public to
shelter in place."
"If there is a fast-moving release, our emergency operations center wouldn't even be
open," Greeley said. "The resources wouldn't be in place to handle an evacuation.
The reception centers would not even be open. You have to be able to mobilize your
resources - the Office of Emergency Services, the police forces, the hospitals - and
those would not be ready."
Greeley said that while emergency plans have always envisioned the possibility of
fast-breaking scenarios - where radiation is released within an hour or two - those
have been accidents of short duration where the public was unaware of unfolding
"Some people think a terrorism plan isn't going to be any different from any other
fast-moving scenario," Greeley said. "But they are kidding themselves. People will
act differently. Some will definitely panic, and there will be people on the road."
Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said a meltdown in either the reactor or the spent
fuel pools at Indian Point would take several hours to develop, leaving plenty of time
for an orderly evacuation from the region.
"A fast-breaking event takes an awful lot of time before radiation affected the limited
area of the emergency planning zone," Steets said. "The fact of the matter is, you
can obviously evacuate parts of the region in much less time."
Steets said it was unlikely any event - an accident or terrorist attack - could cause a
radiation release in less than eight or 10 hours.
"We still have three layers of defense in depth that would take time to be broken
down before there is a release of radiation," he said.
A 2001 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study of possible meltdowns in spent fuel
pools said that massive amounts of radiation could be emitted from a site in as little
as an hour.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, said the counties' acknowledgement
that no evacuation is possible in a fast-breaking emergency means current
evacuation plans are useless.
"It means the only thing that will really happen is that they will tell everybody to
stay home," he said. "It's not an honest emergency plan anymore. It used to be just
a bad plan. Now, it's a bad, dishonest plan."
Reach Roger Witherspoon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-696-8566.