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Evacuations During Nuclear Emergency May Cause Gridlock, Report Reveals

Above: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station emergency planning zones.

During an emergency at a nuclear facility like San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), people living beyond the official 10-mile evacuation zone might panic and flee unnecessarily, jamming traffic and delaying others from escaping, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

Aired 4/10/13 on KPBS News.

Evacuations during a nuclear emergency at San Onofre may not go as planned. A new government report reveals people fleeing in fear outside of the evacuation zone could cause gridlock.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant located on the Pacific coast of California. The 84-acre site is in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, and surrounded by the San Onofre State Park and next to the I-5 Highway.
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Above: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant located on the Pacific coast of California. The 84-acre site is in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, and surrounded by the San Onofre State Park and next to the I-5 Highway.

The report states previous evacuation time estimates may not be accurate because they don’t consider these so-called “shadow evacuations.”

But San Diego County Office of Emergency Services officials said local planning efforts go beyond the 10 miles and address the entire county.

"In addition to planning we do specifically for SONGS, San Diego County has a multi-hazard regional Emergency Operations Plan," said Holly Crawford, Office of Emergency Services director, in a released statement.

The plan describes how responders would evacuate populations at risk, shelter evacuees, provide emergency information to the public and conduct fire and law enforcement operations.

"The plan was used in the 2007 wildfires when over a half-million people were evacuated," stated Crawford.

A 10-mile radius is used because previous studies showed the majority of radioactive material released during an accident would be dispersed and diluted after traveling that distance.

Environmental and anti-nuclear activists want federal regulators to expand evacuations to 25 miles and food contamination to 100 miles.

Four U.S. senators, including California’s Barbara Boxer, requested the investigation.

“Clearly, this is a common-sense recommendation after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima," said Boxer in a released statement. "After this tragedy, the Japanese government evacuated people within 19 miles of the damaged nuclear power plant, while the American government recommended that those within 50 miles evacuate."

Boxer urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to follow the recommendations made in the report.

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