Group Opposes Shrinking Emergency Zone for Nuclear Project
HEAL Utah says federal proposal raises a red flag for Utah
May 15, 2020, Salt Lake City, UT – This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released their guidance on dramatically shrinking the emergency preparedness zones for new nuclear reactors. The first project this change would apply to is the yet untested small modular reactors being proposed in Idaho that would provide power to 35 Utah cities. This proposal comes at the same time federal regulators have raised concerns about the safety of the design of these new reactors. The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) believes this proposal and these design concerns should raise major red flags about the unknown risks of the Idaho project.
An emergency preparedness zone is the area which radioactive exposure is expected to reach in a nuclear power plant accident. Currently the exposure zone is a 10 mile radius around the plant and a 50 mile radius around the ingestion zone (contaminated food and water). The proposed alternative framework seeks to end emergency preparedness zones at a plant site’s boundary for technologies like the smaller reactors in Idaho and any projects that follow. Downsizing the emergency preparedness zones will exempt plant operators from any emergency planning outside the boundary and coordination with emergency responders in nearby communities to prepare for an accident. It would also prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from evaluating the operator’s emergency plans.
HEAL has been Utah’s radioactive watchdog for over twenty years and is monitoring the Idaho project due to concerns with the production of additional radioactive waste, the high electric costs that ratepayers in Utah towns would be burdened by for at least 40 years, and the many unanswered questions and unknown risks of small modular reactors which have never been built or operated before.
“The proposal to shrink emergency preparedness zones is yet another red flag in this outrageous project,” said HEAL’s Executive Director Dr. Scott Williams. “The Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and NuScale, the backers of this project, are desperate to get this thing built. They appear willing to gamble with the health of the community surrounding the plant just to lower their costs. This should cause the participating Utah towns to question whether they are also gambling with the pocketbooks of ratepayers in their communities.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s proposal was also met with strong opposition by one of the three commissioners within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and by officials at FEMA.
Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Jeff Baran opposed the new proposal, calling it “a radical departure from more than 40 years of radiological emergency planning.” He also expressed concerns that the proposal didn’t consider enough scenarios, like an accident involving multiple small modular reactors.
In a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission, director of FEMA’s Technological Hazards Division Michael Casey said, “FEMA believes that the NRC staff conclusion that the proposed methodology for offsite emergency preparedness maintains the same level of protection as a ten-mile [emergency preparedness zone] is unsupported.”
Additionally, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently pushed back a design certification of small modular reactors due to several safety concerns in the project design.
“Utah ratepayers shouldn’t be forced to put their money on the line for a project that has not yet achieved proof-of-concept,” Dr. Williams continued. “There are safer and cheaper energy options, like wind, solar, and storage, that these towns should invest in rather than throwing their citizen’s dollars at an unproven project that is clearly putting private profits over the health, safety, and of citizens.”
The Utah cities considering an investment in the small modular reactor project include Beaver City, Blanding, Bountiful, Brigham City, Enterprise, Ephraim, Fairview, Fillmore, Heber Light and Power, Holden Town, Hurricane, Hyrum, Kanosh, Kaysville, Lehi, Logan, Monroe, Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, Murray, Oak, Paragonah, Parowan, Payson, Santa Clara, South Utah Valley Electric Service District, Spring, Springville, Washington, and Weber Basin Conservancy District, which are all UAMPS members.
About the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah: The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) has been an environmental advocacy organization, watchdog, and strategic public policy influencer in Utah since 1999. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and developing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. The organization focuses on clean air, energy and climate, and radioactive waste. HEAL uses well-researched legislative, regulatory, and individual responsibility approaches to create tangible change, and then mobilizes grassroots action to make it happen. www.healutah.org.