Did you know that over half the US population lives in close proximity to one of the nation’s 65 nuclear power plants? Each nuclear power plant is surrounded by what is known as an Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ). These EPZs are comprised of two concentric circles around the nuclear plant – one with a radius of 10 miles and the other with a radius of 50 miles. The smaller circle represents the area in which preparedness activities for a potential exposure to a radiation plume occur while the larger circle represents the preparedness zone for exposure to radiation via ingestion.
My colleagues and I just published an article in The Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, studying preparedness efforts within EPZs to better understand how nuclear preparedness works outside of the nuclear plant in the 10 mile EPZ. We did this by interviewing emergency managers, state health preparedness officers, state radiation health officials, and industry officials. We had several interesting findings but one in particular is worth highlighting.
We found that almost all of our county level interviewees reported that radiological safety positions in local jurisdictions are financially supported by the local nuclear power plant. Often these additional personnel don’t just work on emergency plans for the power plant. They are integrated into the entire local emergency management apparatus. As a result, in many localities all-hazard preparedness is improved as these counties benefit from extra personnel, more frequent emergency exercises, communication activities, and funding support.
It’s an interesting finding that really hasn’t been discussed before, but as we work on other projects we’ve heard it echoed a few times. Local jurisdictions with a nuclear power plant are also more likely to have awareness of and a knowledge base around other nuclear threats such as radiological dispersal devices (dirty bomb), improvised nuclear detonations (INDs), and radiological transit issues—ripple effects from having the radiological expertise needed for nuclear power plants.
Could some of the work done within EPZs be transformed to improve preparedness in locales which do not have nuclear power plants? It would be difficult to replicate the material resources provided by the local power plants, but other areas could perhaps extract useful practices and processes developed within the EPZs to improve their own preparedness activities.