Emergency Preparedness Around Nuclear Powerplants

Gao ID: 109285 May 7, 1979

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates commercial nuclear powerplants, requires utilities to develop and test onsite emergency plans. In the event of a nuclear accident, prompt notification of State and local officials is the most important step. NRC considers that State and local authorities are responsible for the evacuation and sheltering of people living near the nuclear facility. It is apparent that: too little attention has been given to insuring that State and local governments develop and test comprehensive nuclear emergency plans; emergency planning zones around nuclear powerplants are too small; and people living near nuclear powerplants are not well informed of potential hazards or emergency procedures. NRC should allow nuclear powerplants to begin operating only where State and local emergency response plans meet all of the NRC planning criteria. Although local authorities are the first to respond to a nuclear accident, they do not have the expertise or capabilities to determine whether any health hazards might exist. Local authorities depend on NRC to provide them with such information, but NRC has not always done this. GAO recommends that emergency planning zones around nuclear powerplants should be increased to a minimum of 10 miles. NRC should require that people living near nuclear facilities are provided with information about potential hazards and emergency actions planned. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was recently established to bring together Federal responsibilities for wartime and peacetime emergency planning. GAO believes that FEMA rather than NRC should make policy and coordinate radiological emergency response planning.

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