Nuclear Plant Evacuation Rule Assailed
Congressmen on Friday denounced a proposed Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule change on evacuation planning as a “declaration of war” against states’ rights and vowed a legislative counterattack.
Congressmen from Massachusetts, New York and Ohio said that the states’ power to protect citizens living near nuclear plants would be wiped out by the commission’s staff proposal.
The proposal would allow a nuclear plant to receive an operating license even if state and local officials refuse to participate in emergency planning.
“This rule represents a declaration of war against the states,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who accused the NRC of conspiring with utilities to circumvent nuclear safety concerns raised by state officials.
Claims Constitutional Violation
Markey also charged that the rule change would violate the 10th Amendment by giving state powers--such as traffic control needed during an evacuation--to utilities.
Markey and other lawmakers vowed to enact legislation that would, at the minimum, require state and local participation in evacuation planning. Markey already has introduced legislation that would give governors the right to veto licensing of nuclear plants they consider unsafe.
The lawmakers also threatened to hold up appropriations and other bills affecting the NRC until such legislation is passed.
NRC officials said Victor Stello, executive director of operations at the NRC, approved the proposed rule change. No date has been set for hearings or a final vote on the plan by the commission.
The draft rule would directly affect disputes at the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire and the Shoreham plant on Long Island, N.Y. In both cases, state and local officials have refused to draw up evacuation plans, effectively preventing the plants from getting operating licenses.
Affects Licensed Plants
The controversy also has affected some plants with licenses. Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste last August withdrew state approval of evacuation plans at the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants.
Despite Celeste’s action, the NRC approved a license for Perry last November, saying emergency planning still was adequate.
The draft proposal on emergency planning would weaken one of the most visible new regulations adopted by the NRC in the wake of the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, which focused attention on the lack of adequate emergency planning in the event of accidents.
Current rules require utilities to plan for evacuation of all areas within a 10-mile radius, and to demonstrate, through “dry runs,” that the plan will work. Opponents of Seabrook and Shoreham successfully blocked licenses by refusing to participate in the drills.
In essence, the draft rule proposes to drop the requirement for a demonstration, as long as the utility gives copies of the plan to all affected governments.