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Friday, June 28, 2002

Evacuation speaker lacked facts

Staff writer

OAK HARBOR -- More than 50 area residents ventured to the St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church Thursday night to hear about possible radioactive exposure from the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.

However, the featured speaker, Dr. Donald Zeigler, was vague in answering residents' questions and admitted he was not familiar with either the region or the county's emergency response plan.

Touted by sponsor Ohio Citizen Action as an "expert in emergency response and evacuation plans," Zeigler told the crowd Thursday he hadn't researched the topic in more than 10 years.

Zeigler, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., took interest in emergency evacuation plans after the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident there in the late 1970s. And while he researched the topic extensively for about 20 years after the accident occurred, he is now a geography and political science professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

During Thursday's meeting, Zeigler was especially critical of utility companies who try to tell residents what or what not to do in the case of a nuclear accident, saying that they had a vested interest in how the people would react to such a situation.

"Don't expect that just because information comes from a utility company that it is necessarily good information," he told the crowd.

That comment -- and the entire meeting in general -- drew the ire of Richard Wilkins, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, the owner and operator of Davis-Besse.

"I don't think the people of Ottawa County -- in any emergency -- are going to call on pressure groups like (Ohio Citizen Action) for help," he said after the meeting. "I think they're going to count on their emergency management agencies -- not a geography professor from Virginia."

Beatrice Miringu, program director for Ohio Citizen Action defended Zeigler, as well as her organization's intentions in calling the meeting.

"The purpose of this meeting was to share information," she said. "This community has a nuclear power plant in their back yard, and it's really important that they know how to respond if something happens.

"It doesn't matter where (Zeigler) is from. This speaks to all communities, and when a person like Dr. Zeigler has looked at and researched other areas like this one, it's very powerful."

Zeigler criticized evacuation plans in general, saying many are based on a natural hazard model and fail to take into consideration the interest of the people who will be most affected.

"We need to go out on the street and ask the people what they would do if there was ever a problem, and use that as a basis for your evacuation plan," he said. "No one has done that. Nothing has changed in over a decade."

Joan Hockett of Port Clinton, who attended the meeting, said she attended because she is concerned that she lives only four miles from the Carroll Township plant.

"I've been concerned about the situation at Davis-Besse for some time," she said. "It's been even more of a concern since September 11. The more you know, the more you get concerned, and this is turning into a very serious situation."