The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, a nuclear power plant in eastern Pennsylvania, will be conducting a special readiness drill to make sure the region is ready for any emergency at the facility. In partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA will evaluate a “Biennial Emergency Preparedness Exercise” to assess the ability of Pennsylvania to respond to an emergency at the nuclear facility. The exercise will happen during the week of March 1.
The Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station is located 50 miles southeast of Harrisburg in Peach Bottom Township in York County, Pennsylvania. Located on the Susquehanna River, it is situated roughly three miles north of the Pennsylvania/Maryland state border. It is located roughly 60 miles south-southwest of Philadelphia and about 40 miles north-northeast of Baltimore.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants. The first is a plume exposure pathway zone; this is where people could become exposed to and/or inhale airborne radioactive contamination from a nuclear accident at the plant. The second is an ingestion pathway zone; this is where people may ingest food and/or liquid contaminated by radioactivity from an accident at the plant. The first zone covers a radius of 10 miles while the second explores a radius of 50 miles.
Because weather systems run west to east in this part of Pennsylvania, there’s concern that any radioactive matter released could eventually be blown to New Jersey, Maryland, and/or Delaware. In other nuclear disasters around the world at atomic power stations, radioactive material was blown far away from the initial site due to the weather.
Over the years, there have been minor accidents and misdeeds at the plant. In 1987, the NRC ordered a shut-down of the plant due to “operator misconduct, corporate malfeasance, and blatant disregard for the health and safety of the area” for allowing workers to sleep on the job, play video games, and not pay attention to the operation of the plant. In another documented incident, more than 35,000 gallons of mildly radioactive water leaked from the plan into the Susquehanna River.
“These drills are held every other year to evaluate government’s ability to protect public health and safety,” said Janice Barlow, Acting Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 3. “We assess state and local government emergency response capabilities within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Within 90 days of the exercise, FEMA will send its evaluation to the NRC. Within 120 days of the exercise, a final report will also be made available to the public. At 10 am on March 5, FEMA will present preliminary finds of the exercise to the public via Zoom. Due to the ongoing pandemic, there will be no in-person meeting.
This exercise is part of FEMA’s Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) program. REP has two purposes: first, FEMA wants to ensure that the health and safety of citizens living around a commercial nuclear power plant are adequately protected in the event of an accident and second, to inform and educate the public about radiological emergency preparedness.
For REP, FEMA has developed a webpage where people can prepare for potential nuclear accidents in their community. The page is located here: https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/practitioners/hazardous-response-capabilities