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PEMA: Japan’s Nuke Plant Crisis Poses No Present Risk to Pennsylvania Residents

Dept. of Environmental Protection


HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health are working with federal partners to monitor the situation at Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors.

“We receive regular updates from federal agencies that are working closely with the Japanese authorities,” said PEMA Director Glenn M. Cannon. “At this point, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given us no indication that radiation from Japan poses a threat to Pennsylvania residents.”

The Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Radiation Protection is maintaining close communications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, regarding the worsening situation in Japan.

Although little, if any, radioactive material is expected to reach the continental U.S., DEP has an extensive environmental surveillance program in place around Pennsylvania’s five nuclear power plant sites that would be able to detect if any radioactivity from Japan reached the state.

The NRC requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be designed and built to withstand the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for each specific site and surrounding area, such as earthquakes and even tsunamis.

The best way for residents to stay safe is to stay informed and monitor local media, Cannon said. If necessary, health and emergency management officials would alert the public as to what action they should take.

“While there is no imminent threat to Pennsylvania, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan serve as vivid reminders that everyone should take steps to learn what to do in an emergency, be it a fire, flood, nuclear incident or a chemical spill,” Cannon said. “Visit to learn how you and your family can be better prepared.”

ReadyPA is a state campaign that encourages citizens to take three basic steps before an emergency or natural disaster:

• Be Informed: know what threats Pennsylvania and your community face.
• Be Prepared: have an emergency kit with at least three days’ worth of essentials at your home, including food, one gallon of water per person per day, medications and specialized items such as baby or pet supplies. Create an emergency plan so family members know where to meet if everyone is separated when an incident occurs.
• Be Involved: Pennsylvanians have a long history of helping one another in times of need. Specialized training and volunteer opportunities are available so citizens can help others in their community in a disaster.

Information such as checklists for emergency kits and templates for emergency plans, as well as other information and volunteer opportunities, is available at or by calling 1-888-9-READYPA (1-888-973-2397).

While evacuation is always the best way to protect human health during a large release of radioactivity, potassium iodide, or KI, provides another layer of protection. KI tablets help protect the thyroid gland from harmful radiation but should only be taken under direction from state health officials or the governor.

Pennsylvanians should not take potassium iodide in response to the current radiological events in Japan, health officials said.

As part of its ongoing preparedness efforts, the Pennsylvania Department of Health offers free KI tablets to residents that live, work or go to school within a ten-mile radius of a nuclear power plant. Those residents can pick up free potassium iodide during normal business hours at state and/or county health department offices located near nuclear facilities. A list of offices is available at or by calling 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

Evacuating Three Mile Island: A Parent's Perspective

Central Pennsylvania is middle America. We enjoy holiday parades, Friday night football and old fashioned everything. We welcome the change of seasons and pretty much stay put from generation to generation. We’re used to America coming to us to visit Gettysburg, marvel at the Amish, and smell Hershey Chocolate.

My father admired the technology that was Three Mile Island. Driving towards the nuclear power plant he confidently welcomed the billowing steam clouds. Many residents boated, fished or water skied around the Island. School students routinely were paraded through the plant to greet their future. My dad was assured that an accident at Three Mile Island was “not possible.” I believed my dad. We believed the nuclear industry and the government.

The last week of March 1979 was unseasonably warm. Central Pennsylvanians stepped outside for their first, prolonged post-winter break. While Governor Richard Thornburgh was acclimating to Harrisburg, the “new” reactor in Middletown was struggling to stay on line.  On Wednesday, March 28, 1979, TMI became a household name. Two days later, while school was in session, area residents fled the area not knowing if or when they would return. America now knew us for all the wrong reasons.

Evacuation plans in 1979 were little more than an afterthought stashed in a drawer. The problem is that people are not hypothetical planning numbers. Human behavior rarely conforms to scientific predictions. People don’t want to leave their homes. Farmers don’t want to desert their animals. And Coatesville isn't Middletown.

I was away at college. My sister waited for my mom to pick her up at Linglestown Junior High School, my brother was in his first trimester, and the family furniture store, which had survived three floods and a fire, remained open.

  • Hershey still made chocolate, the Amish continued to plow Lancaster’s  fertile earth, and the Battlefield at Gettysburg still attracted visitors.
  • In Middletown, Mayor Robert Reid directed traffic out of town as fleeing residents asked him to protect their homes while they were gone.
  • To the north, streams of citizens from Harrisburg flowed down Market Street to line up for busses heading anywhere.
  • Across the river, Goldsboro became a ghost town, dairy cows continued to graze in Etters, and the City of York, like Harrisburg and Lancaster, had no nuclear evacuation plan.

The TMI community remains a living case study of how not to evacuate.  Many residents still keep an overnight bag packed, a stash of “TMI money”, and make sure their cars have a full tank of gas. For those of us who live, work and parent in the shadow of Three Mile Island, the Accident continues to exact a toll.

No reactor community should have to endure another nuclear nightmare. At the very least, we should stop pretending that emergency evacuation planning for small children is adequate.   I need to be able to get in my car, drive past Three Mile Island, and tell my daughter that adults are doing everything humanly possible to make sure there is no “next time.”


Eric J.  Epstein,

Mr. Epstein is  Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, Inc.,  a safe-energy organization  based  in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977, and a member of the American Nuclear Society.

Beaver Valley Unit 1 among reactors most vulnerable to quake damage

From the Beaver County Times:

While new Nuclear Regulatory Commission research puts the Beaver Valley Unit 1 nuclear reactor in Shippingport among the nation's most vulnerable to earthquake damage, First Energy officials say their site has adequate protection.

NRC "seismic hazard estimates" were revised in 2010 and obtained by MSNBC for a report that was made public following the recent catastrophic earthquake that damaged nuclear reactors in Japan.

The Beaver Valley site, according to the NRC numbers, was listed fifth among sites in earthquake damage probability. The report said Beaver Valley Unit 1 has a 1 in 21,739 chance of suffering core damage from an earthquake each year.

Read more

What's the most at-risk U.S. nuclear power plant?

From CBS News:

Indian Point, located in Buchanan, N.Y., has the highest risk of core damage in the event of an earthquake, according to NRC estimates reported by MSNBC. At a 1 in 10,000 chance of core breach, that's right on the verge of what the NRC calls "immediate concern regarding adequate protection."

The East Coast comes off much worse than other parts of the country. The second plant on the list is Pilgrim 1 in Massachusetts. Number three is in Pennsylvania. The only West Coast plant is Diablo Canyon in California at number nine.

What explains it?

The government's list considered how close the plants were to major fault lines and how well they were designed to handle an earthquake. Back in the 1960s and 70s, when most of the plants were built, the government knew about earthquake risks on the West Coast. Those plants were designed to withstand them. But new surveying technology has revealed fault lines in the central and eastern states where plants were not designed for the serious stresses of a large quake.

Read more

Nuclear paranoia

Vt. Nuclear Engineer Becomes International Star


As the world sits glued to the coverage of Japan's nuclear crisis, they will likely see Vermonter Arnie Gundersen among that coverage, speaking as an expert on nuclear energy.

Gundersen has done interviews nonstop since Monday, including 18 Tuesday alone. On Wednesday, a Japanese news crew flew in from New York City to interview Gundersen and hours later, he did a Skype interview with a Russian TV station out of Moscow.

"It's neat to be recognized, but what caused the recognition is the worst industrial accident in the history of the world," Gundersen said.

Gundersen has been outspoken about his belief that the nuclear crisis surpasses that of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, perhaps accounting for the extreme media attention he has gotten.

"I don't think the (Japanese) government is lying. I do think the government is not telling everything it knows," Gundersen said in one interview Wednesday.

Read more

Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor

From the New York Times:

The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a “Mark 1” nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.

Now, with one Mark 1 containment vessel damaged at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and other vessels there under severe strain, the weaknesses of the design — developed in the 1960s by General Electric — could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe.

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Delay in Transmittal of Director's Decision


Your petition dated September 30, 2010 addressed to Stephen Burns, Office of the General Counsel, is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff pursuant to 10 CFR 2.206 of the Commission's Regulations. This letter is to inform you that the due date for the final Director's Decision has been delayed from March 11, 2011, to May 13, 2011. The delay is necessary to complete the technical review and accommodate the required Petitioner/licensee draft Director's Decision review. NRC expects to provide you, and the licensee, the proposed Director's Decision by April 8, 2011, for your review and comment.

Please feel free to contact John Buckley at 301-415-6607 to discuss any questions related to this petition.


Larry W. Camper, Director
Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs

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Susquehanna: Fire Protection Baseline Inspection


Download ML110740422 (PDF)

Peach Bottom: NRC Examination Report


Download ML110740322 (PDF)

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