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San Onofre Evacuation Plans Kept at the Ready

Times Staff Writer

Last Friday, the day before an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union, members of a unique committee were meeting at the San Onofre nuclear power plant to update emergency evacuation plans in the area surrounding the plant.

Although chances for a similar catastrophe at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are “virtually nil,” according to Paul Hess, manager for the Orange County Fire Department’s emergency management division, the panel meets regularly to prepare for any contingency.

As usual, Friday’s monthly meeting included representatives of Orange and San Diego counties, the California Highway Patrol, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, the cities of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, the state Parks and Recreation Department (Doheny, San Clemente and San Onofre state beaches) and Southern California Edison Co., which operates the San Onofre power plant.

First in the Country

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The committee is the first of its kind in the country, according to Jack Wallace, supervisor of nuclear affairs at San Onofre and Edison’s liaison with the committee. Wallace said the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has referred other areas of the country with overlapping jurisdictions to the San Onofre panel for help in setting up similar groups.

According to Hess, the committee updates the evacuation plan each year. Federal law requires that operators of nuclear power plants maintain evacuation plans for all those living within a 10-mile radius, an area considered an “emergency planning zone.” In addition, Hess said, all those living within a 20-mile radius of such plants are considered to be within a “public education zone.”

The specialists confirmed that, before the Soviet accident, federal officials had been considering reducing the emergency planning zone to a three-mile radius of U.S. nuclear plants. Until the accident at Three Mile Island, the evacuation zone was a radius of two miles of the facility, after which the limit was raised to 10 miles.

In January, 1985, Edison sent copies of the current evacuation plan to more than 80,000 residents living within the evacuation zone and to 155,000 residents living in the public education zone. New residents moving to the area thereafter were to receive copies shortly after moving in.

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On the glossy cover of the evacuation plan is a photograph of a beachside sunset seen through palm trees, and much of the material inside explains--in primer fashion and with diagrams--how nuclear power is created within the plant.

“A serious emergency situation at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is considered highly unlikely,” according to the introduction. Nonetheless, residents are urged to “keep this folder in a handy place.”

The 12-page brochure includes a three-page fold-out map that instructs residents of south Orange County to drive north on Coast Highway, Interstate 5 and the 405 or walk to 34 “public transportation assembly points.” Major “reception and care centers” include UC Irvine, Orange Coast College, Edison High School in Huntington Beach, and Santa Ana and Tustin high schools.

“If the public were instructed to evacuate in response to an emergency at San Onofre,” the booklet states, “there would be no need to panic and to risk injury or accident in the belief that there is imminent danger.”

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Brochure to Be Updated

Linda Kinkade, an emergency planning specialist at San Onofre, said an updated brochure should be mailed in June to all residents of both zones.

Like other nuclear power specialists around the country, Wallace emphasized the differences in safety practices between U.S. and Soviet facilities. There are, however, “lessons to be learned” for emergency specialists in this country, he said.

“We are watching this (Soviet accident) as intently as everyone else,” Wallace added. “If it helps educate people, that’s fine. Apathy is probably the biggest enemy.”

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