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Should county be evacuated if nuke plants hit?

Saturday, September 21

All Lancaster County residents would be evacuated in case of an accident or successful terrorist attack at the Three Mile Island or Peach Bottom nuclear plant, under a new homeland security proposal by a state lawmaker.

Rep. Mike Veon, a Democrat from Beaver County, and House minority whip, said the current 10-mile evacuation zone is inadequate.

"If you live outside that 10-mile radius, then you are on your own," Veon said. "We have to revisit emergency plans and expand the radius of protection because we are not simply talking about a leak or other accident at a nuclear reactor.

"We are now talking about an attack that would seriously impact our time to react."

He said thousands of people live outside the 10-mile zone but in the pathway of any evacuation or response from an attack or accident.

Veon also wants radiation-protecting potassium iodide pills -- recently handed out to residents near Pennsylvania's five nuclear plants given to people who live within 50 miles of a plant.

State emergency planners and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have long maintained 10 miles is an adequate distance to protect people who could be affected by radiation from an accident.

Veon said he would soon be introducing legislation to expand the evacuation zone and make other security changes.

Veon's homeland security package also calls for tighter security at nuclear and chemical plants in Pennsylvania, which, he said, remain vulnerable.

He cited a report last week from the Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, that said interviews with guards at U.S. nuclear plants showed security forces at only one in four plants were confident their plant could beat back a terrorist attack.

Veon proposes creating a 1.000-member Homeland Security Force within the National Guard so all five of the state's nuclear power plants could have at least 10 soldiers on patrol 24 hours a day, year-round.

Half the force would be at nuclear plants and half would be on call, ready to be deployed at any time. The estimated cost of the program would be $24 million.

Veon's proposals would also mandate that National Guardsmen at nuclear plants carry live ammunition. There was a public outcry several months ago when it was revealed guardsmen at TMI didn't have live ammunition in their guns. It is not known whether they do now.

Veon said that "dozens of active-duty soldiers" have told him that they do not have live ammunition in their guns.

The legislator also called for tougher training standards for private security forces hired by nuclear operators and strong "whistleblower" protections for employees who disclose workplace safety and health hazards to an employer or government agency.

"There is no reason for us to believe the threats against us will diminish anytime soon," Veon said. "Although things have improved somewhat since Sept. 11, more responsibilities are falling to the states. Pennsylvania needs to meet the challenge."

Updated: 09/28/02 19:00

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