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Report: United States Not Prepared for Fukushima-Like Emergency

On March 11, 2011, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan spelled disaster for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Now, a new report examining the United States' readiness for a similar nuclear crisis asserts that the nation "has not developed the capability to inform and direct emergency personnel and the public in real time during an unfolding severe event."

The Physicians for Social Responsibility's (PSR) March 6 report, "Nuclear Power And Public Health: Lessons From Fukushima, Still Dangerously Unprepared," claims the nation's lack of preparedness extends to concerns surrounding "actual radiation levels, plume directions, food and water safety, timely distribution of stable potassium iodide, or the rationale of sheltering-in-place advisories to the public."

"Our abilities to respond to this type of incident has improved over the years, but any response to a large-scale incident involving large number of injured and radiologically contaminated patients, let us say hundreds not thousands, has to be seriously questioned," said Erik Larsen, M.D., associate director of the White Plains Hospital emergency department.

Larsen, who also is a member of the National Disaster Medical System, the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and the New York City MEDICS Disaster Team, stressed that funding from the nuclear power industry could help better prepare the nation for such an emergency through training and facility preparation.

Evacuation, Natural Disaster Concerns

"Recent press reports indicate that the Japanese government feared during the first chaotic days of the accident that it would need to evacuate Tokyo," explained Dr. Ira Helfand, North American vice president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and past president of PSR. "No one has ever evacuated tens of millions of people, and it probably cannot be done in the time frame that would be required. But that is exactly what we would have to do here in the U.S. in the event of a major accident at Indian Point [in Buchanan, N.Y.]."

According to Helfand, Indian Point Energy Center's 50-mile evacuation zone would involve 17 million people. Evacuation zones around several other plants in the nation contain more than 5 million people. He asserted that if a large-scale nuclear disaster were to occur on U.S. soil, "most of these people will not, in fact, be evacuated."

The report also points out that nearly all spent nuclear fuel ever created by U.S. commercial reactors is still stored at U.S. reactor stations. Much of this spent fuel is poorly protected, remaining vulnerable to loss of cooling events, terrorist attack and to natural disasters. Furthermore, severe weather/natural disaster events approaching those of Fukushima are no longer uncommon in the United States, with some reactors vulnerable to possible earthquakes or flooding, the report stated.

Finally, the report contends that the United States has not developed the programs to educate the public on radioactivity and radiologic hazards before possible accidents happen.


The PSR report offered the following recommendations:

· Educate the public and first responders regarding radiation exposure and health;
· Implement and educate of the public and first responders on emergency plans, which may include sheltering in place, early distribution of stable potassium iodide and evacuation;
· Enhance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ability to monitor the distressed site in real time with communication and transparency to the public about such events;
· Enhance fuel pool security; and
· Put a moratorium on building further nuclear power plants until current safety and waste handling concerns are addressed and solved in some fashion.

The report's final recommendation is the most dramatic, calling for "the phasing out of nuclear power as a source of energy, beginning now."

"While there is an urgent need to improve our preparedness for a major nuclear accident, we also need to understand that there is no planning possible for some of the worst consequences of a nuclear disaster," said Helfand.

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