After a three-hour public hearing in Toms River, no one critical - or supportive -  of New Jersey's radiological emergency response plan (RERP) underwent a dramatic change of heart.

Attendees at NJDEP Radiological Emergency Response Plan hearing, Toms River

Officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health and Human Services and State Police took comments from about half the roughly three dozen attendees at the County Administration building Wednesday night.

DEP oversees the annual hearings that elicit comment about plans to address public safety, health and environment in the event of a nuclear or natural disaster. They are held in proximity to the state's nuclear power plants in Ocean, Salem and Gloucester Counties.

Critics of nuclear energy in general, and of the Oyster Creek generating station in specific, brought dark humor and an air of despair to their five minutes in the dock.

Japan's Fukushima Daichi meltdown, Superstorm Sandy, suspicion of NRC motives around the nation's oldest functioning commercial nuclear reactor, and the state Department of Transportation's continuing refusal to widen critical roads that serve as evacuation routes, informed their dialogue.

Among their chief concerns:

  • Whether escape routes largely consisting of Ocean County's two-lane blacktops are sufficient for evacuation purposes.
  • Whether the 10-mile radius of the Emergency Planning Zone established at the Lacey plant's inception is still viable after 40 years and a population increase of several hundred percent.
  • Whether the effects of Superstorm Sandy, buffeted by the effects of the Japanese tsunami on a nuclear plant of similar design, are being taken into consideration - esepcially if an even worse storm arrives.
  • Whether decommissioning the plant at the end of its license will be done in a timely manner, or whether it will require the full 60 years allowable.
  • Whether state officials have any real interest in public comments, or any real influence over decisions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • Whether the plan takes nuclear terrorism into account.

Janet Tauro of Brick, who chairs the board of directors of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, raised the issue of radiation filters, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require at Oyster Creek and about which DEP took a neutral stance.

Her concern is the vulnerability not just of plant workers involved in a nuclear accident, but of those who step in to save them.

"Shame on you," she snapped, "because when those responders go in, if there's a catastrophe...and they risk their lives saving people...there are no radiation filters in place to shield them."

Regina Discenza of Lacey Township held aloft an informational brochure that is distributed annually by parent company Exelon to homeowners within the EPZ, bearing safety measures and outlining evacuation routes and transportation.

"I was very disturbed by this," she remarked. "There's only four bus routes in the township of Lacey. And we are the host to the power plant. And there's none for my neighborhood at all."

Informal Q&A at NJDEP Radiological Emergency Response Plan Hearing (Townsquare Media)

Jeff Brown, a longtime associate of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety, questioned whether the plan takes airborne radioactivity into account. He used Japan's Fukushima Daichi tsunami-triggered meltdown to illustrate his questioning of a 10-mile emergency radius.

"Radioactivity from Fukushima traveled 24, 25, 26 miles," he noted. "Some people were evacuated into the hot zones. Concentric circles don't work in the real world."

At the end of the session, Paul Baldauf, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Safety and Health, noted that some criticisms continue year to year, in form if not in substance.

"There were concerns on the evacuation side," he said in illustration,"that are not necessarily new to us, but things as a result of (Superstorm) Sandy that we would look into further and make sure we cross all the 't's and dot all the 'i's."

Baldauf noted that state officials are "comfortable" with the federally-determined 10-mile EPZ radius, but added that "if it turns out that we have to evacuate further than 10 miles, we're prepared to do that."