Nuclear Power Plant Accidents: A Guide for Informed Citizen Response


Evacuation: what are its strengths and weaknesses?

Evacuation is the primary aspect of many plans for emergency response to a nuclear power plant accident, including US plans. The intent is to reduce citizen radiation exposure by removing people from the source of radiation. Evacuation can be an effective and desirable way to reduce the population's radiation exposure, and citizens should be prepared to obey evacuation instructions promptly.

This method, however, has some flaws, such as:

  1. Authorities may call for evacuation many hours or even days and weeks, after an accident occurs (as happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl);
  2. Evacuation is not an immediate option in some situations (for example, during a blizzard or for a large population);
  3. All evacuation plans may not be realistic. For example, the escape plan for the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in the United States was unfeasible. The large summer tourist community on the end of a 12-mile-long peninsula "in downwind Boothbay Harbor would face a terrifying drive up one winding little road toward the plant, where they would have to turn onto the pandemonium of U.S. 1 right next to ground zero..." A local attorney and former state senator Stanley Tupper stated that "Nothing short of a wide-scale evacuation by sea could have saved all these people." (The full text of the article is available from the website of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.)

Therefore, it is crucial that citizens be prepared to protect themselves.

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