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Pennsylvania senator wants updated planning to address 'dangerous incidents' at nuclear plants

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Federal regulators should “do the work” necessary to learn whether people living within 50 miles of nuclear power plants know what to do if a dangerous incident occurs, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday.

“More than 10 million Pennsylvanians, which is 80 percent of our population, live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant,” Casey wrote in a letter to Allison M. Macfarlane, chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We need to ensure that appropriate plans are in place and that residents are fully informed about emergency procedures outside of the 10-mile radius.”

Since 1978, the government has mandated a 10-mile evacuation zone around nuclear plants. But the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown and radiation release at Fukushima power plant in Japan raised questions about whether to increase the zone to 50 miles.

Casey did not suggest doing so but said he thinks residents within that radius should get information about what to do during an emergency.

“If you live within 10 miles (of a plant) you get a lot of info to help you be prepared,” Casey said during a telephone conference call with reporters. “I want to make sure that folks outside the 10 miles also have the information they need.”

Robert Young, the emergency management director for Butler County, said emergency responders in an area dubbed “Region 13” — 12 Western Pennsylvania counties plus the City of Pittsburgh — regularly conduct emergency evacuation training and drills.

“We practice all the time. But part of our plan involves informing residents about preparedness,” he said. “So I'm all for putting out more information if it can help keep people safe.”

FirstEnergy Corp., which owns the Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, puts information in telephone books and every three years sends brochures to all residents in Beaver County, said Jennifer Young, a spokeswoman for the utility.

“During the years we don't send out a brochure, we mail residents a letter reminding them about it,” she said.

Alvin Henderson, emergency management coordinator for Allegheny County, agrees with the concept of helping people better prepare for disasters.

“Whenever we can, we stress the importance of having a personal as well as a family plan to follow during emergencies,” he said.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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