Poor nuclear evacuation plans offset KI pills' benefits

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A lot of good it’ll do them. A brief announcement, a barely audible one amid the overall media din, was made yesterday, regarding an issue that deserves a certain degree of screaming.  Health departments in five counties, including Mecklenburg, will hand out potassium iodide (aka KI) to folks living within 10 miles of our area’s two nuclear plants, McGuire and Catawba. Taking the KI is supposed to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer resulting from radiation leaks during what is delicately termed a “nuclear emergency.” It’s a shame – and we mean that literally – that the whole thing is a charade.

As was previously reported in Creative Loafing, there are problems with the KI distribution, and they’re related to the area’s nuclear emergency evacuation plans. National experts say KI distribution will be inadequate unless the area covered is enlarged to include those who live farther than 10 miles from the nuclear plant. The American Thyroid Association goes farther,  recommending that anyone within 50 miles of a plant be given KI in case an evacuation lasts longer than a day. As my colleague Tara Servatius (then a CL investigative reporter) perceptively noted,

You've got to ask yourself why people who live outside the 10-mile zone around a nuclear plant might need KI pills if they are in so little danger from spreading radiation that the county hasn't bothered to concoct a plan for evacuating them. . . .And why would [people outside the 10-mile zone] need an extra dose if, according to the county's evacuation time estimates, they can clear the 10-mile zone around Catawba and McGuire Nuclear Stations in under eight hours?

Mecklenburg County has a plan to evacuate up to 195,000 people from the 10-mile zone around McGuire within eight hours. Federal studies say that’s nowhere near fast enough to keep escaping citizens out of the radiation’s path, since the radiation would travel 10 miles in from one to four hours. In other words, if there's an accident at McGuire and you live within 10 miles of it, you are essentially screwed: the roads are going to be clogged and probably at a standstill, so getting away in one, four, eight, or probably even 24 hours, is not real likely. Again, quoting Servatius’ article,

So what exactly are folks who live, say, 15 miles from the plant supposed to do if a terrorist attack releases radiation? Who knows. Heck, according to our evacuation plans, many of the shelters that would house those fleeing the radiation are within the 15 to 20-mile zone.

Ah yes, the evacuation plans, our useless, fantasy-based evacuation plans. You can read an exhaustive, award-winning report by CL on the gross inadequacy of Mecklenburg’s evacuation plans here. It’s long but it’s  worth reading, or saving to read later, if you have some interest in saving your hide after a nuclear accident or, God forbid, a terrorist attack on one of the plants. I can’t summarize the entire article in this space, but suffice it to say that the headlines for the article express the dangers and near impossibility of getting away quickly enough: “City At Risk” and “The Traffic Jam From Hell.”

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