If there's ever an accident at the Connecticut Yankee nuclear generating plant on the edge of East Hampton, Conn., the official emergency plan calls for town officials to don protective masks and use their radiation detection kits to determine whether the population should be evacuated.
But there's a problem.
"Some knucklehead sent us the wrong kits," says Bert Bizantz, a friendly retiree who works part-time as the town's civil preparedness director. "The ones we got - they're basically for wartime. They're calibrated so high that by the time they got a reading, the whole town would be over exposed. And those masks - we don't have any of those."
If there's an accident at either of the two Turkey Point nuclear plants near Homestead, Fla., the official emergency plan tells the one full-time resident, a marina caretaker, and any transient beachgoers or fishing parties to drive out on the one road through the marshes.
But there's a problem. The plan covers the required five-mile radius from the plant, in which the only inhabitants are muskrats and armadillos since the caretaker moved away about a year ago. But roughly five miles and a few feet from the plant is the property line of Homestead Air Force Base, since 1956 a major U.S. military installation with a total population of about 30,000.
"We have no specific plan that says if anything happens at Turkey Point, here's what you do," said Capt. Michael Warden, chief of information for the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead. "However, we have an agreement to assist the local civil defense authorities when asked."
Emergency planning has been the neglected child of the nuclear industry, as the accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania made clear. Each of the nation's 72 nuclear plants must satisfy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it can evacuate its site, in order to receive an operating license, but state and local plans are only encouraged, not required.
Congress is drafting legislation to change that, but at present, only 12 of the 26 states that have nuclear plants have emergency plans approved by the NRC.
A new NRC staff study says that the concept of "defense in depth" - this means that serious nuclear accidents are to be prevented by careful design and operation of the plants - should no longer be considered adequate to protect the public. The study suggests that emergency planning and evacuation preparations should receive much more emphasis than they have in the past.
Many states have been galvanized into action since Three Mile Island, but the NRC's limited review staff already is stretched to exhaustion. And a close look at two of the plans approved by the NRC in Connecticut and Florida, indicates that there are sizable gaps between the reassuring appearance of mounds of paper and the reality of true emergency preparedness.
Connecticut's plan is an imposing five-volume compilation of charts, maps and statistics. It lists, among much else, every cow and goat herd in the vicinity of the state's nuclear plants. It includes repeated assurances, all written before the Three Mile Island mishap, that nuclear plants are utterly safe. But if the plan ever had to be used, there would be serious problems.
The plan depends on skilled civil defense personnel to direct emergency response, but towns near the power plants don't have full-time civil defense workers.
Everyone agrees that such workers are needed, but the towns, the state, the federal government and the utility can't agree on who should provide the money.
In Florida, hurricanes have long forced state officials to take emergency preparedness seriously, and full-time civil defense officers cover Turkey Point and the state's two other reactor sites. The state plan, bereft of rhetoric about nuclear blessings or problems, is if anything too concise, leaving most of the detail work to the organizing capacity of local leaders. There have been unannounced drills for officialdom, heralded by a phone call beginning, "Cry Wolf," and state authorities said they were happy with the results.
But both states worry about their antiquated or useless equipment. There has been no public involvement whatever in the shaping of the emergency plans, and there continues to be very little neighborhood interest in evacuation procedures, in spite of Three Mile Island. Everywhere, from utility officials through emergency teams to the couples buying condominiums on swampy sandspits down the road from Florida's St. Lucie reactor, there is the feeling that if there is an accident, nothing bad will happen here.
Both states, like much of the country, are committed to a nuclear future. Connecticut Yankee and two plants at Millstone Point on Long Island Sound produce 60 percent of Connecticut's electric power, up to 75 percent in winter. The Turkey Point 3 and 4, St. Lucie and Crystal River plants produce 28 percent of Florida's power. Both states have more plants under construction.
Officials in both states vehemently object to a proposed set of new federal guidelines that would force them to expand the basic evacuation zones and double the existing 25-mile area in which food supplies would be considered contaminated after a nuclear accident.
Connecticut's huge emergency plan, which federal regulators consider a model, is intensely bureaucratic. It includes scores of organization charts and page after page of sample forms to be filled out in case of accident.
The instructions sometimes seem to place paperwork before people.
When the local state police barracks is informed of a nuclear accident at the Millstone site, for example, the plan's first instruction is: "The call will be verified by calling Millstone, and an incident form will be completed." Only then does the barracks call state police headquarters. At headqaurters, the plan says, another three-page form is to be completed, and only then are additional state agencies to be notified.
The plan then lays out detailed responsibilities for every conceivable governmental agency. There are, for instance, three single-spaced pages of instructions for the state insurance department, including the requirement that "all tax returns on fill with the department from insurance companies . . . will be immediately transferred to a safe place."
The result is an unwiedly document that many people think would be hard to work with in case of a real emergency. "They have these reams of paperwork," says Bizantz of East Hampton. "Who the hell's going to sit down and read all that stuff when you have an accident?"
"They have a plan - volumes of plan," says Lawrence Bettencourt, a retired Army colonel who is first selectman (mayor) of Waterford, the town nearest the Millstone plants. "But they've never tested it. That means they don't have a plan."
Bettencourt, who is an enthusiastic evangelist for emergency preparedness, got tired of waiting for state and federal officials to hold a test emergency at Millstone.
Last summer, after six months of preparations, Bettencourt held a drill of his own.
In a single day, Waterford and two nearby towns were hit by a simulated hurricane, flood, chemical train derailment and nuclear plant accident. Three hundred town employes directed the evacuation of 200 schoolchildren, and everyone involved learned, Bettencourt says, "what a staggering amount of work it takes to deal with an emergency."
The towns learned, too, according to Bettencourt, that, "You're kidding yourself if you try to say that emergency preparedness can be handled on a part-time basis."
That lesson seems to have sunk in throughout Connecticut, but nobody is doing anything about it.
"The responsibility is too awesome for state government, or for these towns," says Frank Mancuso, the state's civil preparedness director. "The utility gives us advice, but it can't take over this function. So we're tyring to get Congress to give us the money to hire some full-time people."
Washington does provide matching funds for local preparedness programs, but Connecticut's towns have not used the money, a failure that irks the NRC.
"Yes, they have an elaborate plan," says Steve Salomon, of the commission's preparedness office. "But what do they do with it? This type of business is too serious to leave to part-time volunteers like those towns up there do."
Roy Sliger, a Dade County, Fla., marina worker, pumps gasoline into outboard motorboat tanks and shoos pelicans off the dock at Homestead Bayfront Park, a palmy boat mooring and beach recreation center one mile north of the two Turkey Point reactors. It is the only commercial operation and the only sign of human life, other than occasional swamp fishermen, within a five-mile radius of the Florida Power & Light Co. plant.
"There ain't but one road out of here, so I guess we'd take that," Sliger said when asked about evacuation. The dozen employes of the center talked about the Three Mile Island accident some last March, he said, "but we never associated it much with Turkey Point. We worry more about getting gasoline."
Asked about removing the 1,000 or so visitors who occasionally overrun the park on weekends, Albert Fischer, deputy director of the Dade County Civil Defense Center, said helicopters could be used to fly over the area and warn people to get out.Although there is only one road, he said, "the plume [of radiation from an accident] could be somewhere else at that point."
I could, in fact, blow instead over Homestead Air Force Base, just over five miles away, or southwest six miles into Homestead, population 6,000, if the wind should shift. Warden said hurricane evacuation plans could be adapted to fit a nuclear problem, but noted that the five-mile evacuation area officially meant the base didn't have to worry. "That's been decided by powers more knowledgeable than I am," he said.
The same attention to official detail could be seen at the St. Lucie plant near Fort Pierce, Fla., where "sheltering" of 9,100 residents within the five-mile radius is planned at three open-air parks. The only difficulty is that the only structures in the parks with any kind of a roof are picnic tables.
Robert Kohler, chief of the radiological bureau of Florida's Division of Disaster Preparedness, had an explanation. "When you're out of the [radiation] cloud, you don't need any kind of a roof," he said. "We'll evacuate people in the direction the cloud is not going."
The Florida Power & Light Co. site, guarded by explosive-scenting dogs and looming blue gun towers, sits two miles off the coast on the inland side of Hutchinson Island, a 26-mile-long glorified sandbar. Bridges at either end connect the island to the mainland.
Along the single two-lane road that spans the island, condominiums are sprouting as Fort Pierce promotes itself into sort of a central Florida Miami.
"Well, we had two people who asked if the nuclear plant bothered the traffic, but nobody who's purchased here has said a thing about it," said Jean Brereton, receptionist in the plush salesroom of the Oceana highrises. "I guess they'll have to put a third bridge in here eventually."
George Allen is civil preparedness director for Citrus County and Crystal River nuclear power plant, owned by Florida's other utility, Florida Power Corp. He worries a little about his radiation monitors. They pick up one of the three kinds of radiation, and he can't get any action on his request for new ones.
At $11,544 a year, Allen works full time preparing the county to cope with hurricanes and nuclear accidents. He didn't know there were matching federal funds available to help him in his planning. He hopes to talk face-to-face eventually with the 100 or so families in his bucolic five-mile evacuation zone to make sure they know how to get out of there.
State officials tried to reassure him, Allen said, by noting that Three Mile Island was due in large part to human error. "I said, 'Hell, I got human beings running my plants too,'" Allen recalled.Asked why the Crystal River evacuation plan on file in Washington contained no detail whatever in its one-page description, Allen smiled.
"Most of it's not written down because you don't want to be liable, you know, if someone doesn't get notified just when the plan says . . . too much detail can tie you down," he said. "But my volunteers are all good people . . . it's all there in their heads."
For the new emphasis on emergency planning, though, the prevailing attitude among the neighbors of nuclear plants in both Connecticut and Florida seems to be a hope that no emergency will occur.
"I'll tell you my evacuation plan," says Jim Coughlin, the custodian at an elementary school three miles from the Connecticut Yankee reactor core. "My plan is to think postive - just hope it doesn't happen, that's all."