State Discusses It’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan
If a nuclear disaster strikes, the State's Nuclear Emergency Plan is there to make sure the public is safe.
However with Ocean County being home to both the nation's oldest nuclear generating station and a ballooning seasonal population, many wonder if it's possible to evacuate so many people so quickly?
The State Department of Environmental Protection, State Police, and State Department of Health visited Toms River as part of their trio of information and public hearing meeting to discuss the State's Nuclear Emergency Plan. All three counties with nuclear power plants will be hosting a meeting. The first one was in Bridgeton in Cumberland County, Tuesday night the second hearing was held in Toms River in Ocean County to discuss Oyster Creek.
Paul Baldauf , Director of Division of Environmental Safety and Health at the DEP, says the plan relies on ten mile radius around the Oyster Creek power plant divided into Emergency Planning zones which can be evacuated based on need.
"Depending on the wind direction and how far we think the plume would go we make decisions based on that." Says Baldauf.
However he notes in practice the actual evacuation procedures would be very similar to what residents saw with Hurricane Irene.
"These are really slow releases usually with plants like this. So you have time to get people out, a significant number of people out and into a safe area. It's really no different than the hurricane although obviously with the hurricanes you have much more time."
He says though the emergency response plan can be used in a dirty bomb or extreme radiological disaster, there is a false perception to the speed that the accidents move.
"Usually there is time to react; usually there is time to evacuate people. This isn't like a dirty bomb for instance where there is an automatic explosion and people are affected. We usually have time."
Adding the plant's safety barriers would slow down release of any radiological contaminants, but if there was a catastrophic situation where release was instantaneous he states they would still use the same plan.
The act of coordinating the evacuation falls to the State Police, and John Christianson who is a planner with the department says the Emergency Response Plans is a living document and is adjusted based on population and traffic patterns.
He notes the plan isn't "off the cuff", with New Jersey having an annual exercise of their emergency plans as opposed to most other states who only do bi-annual tests.
Christianson says the State Police are trained and prepared to direct traffic and provide alternate routes, even in scenarios of accidents and stalled vehicles. However he notes getting on the roads is not always the prescribed scenario.
"Sheltering in place might be the recommended course of action and waiting until there isn't any release in the atmosphere."
For Baldauf the most important contingency plan is education alert notifications in form of sirens and radio and TV broadcasts.
"The last thing we want is for people to evacuate on their own when it turns out they are putting themselves in harm's way by not sheltering in place for instance." But he notes nothing is concrete. "You're always going to have some percentage that doesn't do what they're directed to do but I think the more education we get out there the more we reinforce things, the better chance we have for a higher compliance."
Christianson says the State Police anticipates a certain level of people who choose to willfully ignore the directions for an evacuation route.
"People will act on their own volition and they will take measures that they deem necessary for their own safety. And you can't deny them that but you have to accommodate that into your plan and we try to do that as best we can."
One scenario where Baldauf admits there is difficulty in many portions of the plan, especially when it comes to parents with children who are in school. Though they are told kids will be shuttled to pre-determined locations in case of a radiological emergency, several speakers during the public hearing noted most parent's first instinct will be to go to their children themselves.
Baldauf says they need people to trust the system.
"Reality is, we do have plans in place to get those students into a safe shelter and the more people that react on their own the less chance we're going to have to serve everybody."
The final meeting will be held Wednesday July 25th in Woodstown at the Salem County Office of Emergency Management (135 Cemetery Road Emergency News Center, Second Floor). The meeting starts at 6pm with a public comment portion at 7pm.