CNN Poll: Most near nuclear plants not ready for emergency
Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Forked River, New Jersey.
March 25th, 2011
09:00 AM ET
4 years ago

CNN Poll: Most near nuclear plants not ready for emergency

Washington (CNN) – Most Americans who live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant aren't prepared for a nuclear emergency and don't think the police, hospitals and other emergency services in their community are prepared either, according to a new national poll.

Map: How close is your home to a nuclear power plant?

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday indicates that only four in ten believe it is likely that an accident or natural disaster at the nuclear plant near them will put their family in immediate danger, and only one in seven think that is very likely to happen.

Graphic: Are you prepared?

Full poll results [pdf]

As a result, only 18 percent of people who live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant have a disaster supplies kit ready, and six in ten are not familiar with the evacuation route they would need to use if the worst happened.

Radiation: What you need to know

"Staying put may also not be a good idea – nearly six in ten believe that the police, hospitals and first responders in their area are not prepared for a nuclear emergency," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

A 1982 study from Sandia National Laboratories, commissioned for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the consequences of a nuclear meltdown in the United States would be catastrophic. The disaster could cause 50,000 fatalities and $314 billion in property damage. In today's money, that's $720 billion.

Cleanup: Who would pay for nuclear disaster cleanup?

Putting a number on a hypothetical scenario such as a full nuclear meltdown in the United States obviously leaves much room for guesswork. The NRC noted the age of the 1982 Sandia study, suggesting it's no longer accurate. The agency is working on a new study, said NRC spokesman Scott Burnell, but that study focuses on health impacts, not property damage.

Winfred Colbert, an energy attorney, said that in the only major disaster at a U.S. nuclear plant, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the containment structure generally worked. Not much radiation is thought to have leaked into the atmosphere. The $70 million or so in evacuation, cleanup and other associated costs were easily paid for by the industry's $12.6 billion fund.

But with so many major U.S. cities so close to nuclear power plants - New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia are all with a 50-mile fallout zone - it's hard to imagine a major disaster wouldn't result in damage far exceeding $12 billion.

The CNN Poll comes two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami that severely damaged a nuclear power plant, resulting in a possible meltdown of some of the reactors.

On Friday, authorities in Japan raised the prospect of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

Traces of radioactive iodine tied to the plant have been detected as far away as Sweden and the United States. Authorities have said those levels are far below what's considered harmful to humans.

Nonetheless, the situation in Japan has caused Americans to reflect on a "what if?" scenario.

Just two months ago, California residents living near a controversial nuclear power plant grilled nuclear regulators over the reactor's safety at a public hearing. At issue was the 2008 discovery of a previously unknown earthquake fault located less than a half mile off shore from the plant.

Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the owner of the plant, PG&E, told residents the plant could withstand the magnitude of quake that's likely to be triggered by the Shoreline Fault. A quake along the Shoreline Fault is predicted to reach magnitude 6.5, according to PG&E. The earthquake that hit Japan was a magnitude 9.0.

With PG&E wanting to extend the license, the 26-year-old Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo is likely to face more scrutiny in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis in Japan. The additional questions over the plant's safety come at a critical time for the U.S. nuclear industry.

Read more on California residents' concerns:

The NRC is reviewing applications for 19 new reactors across the country. Most of the new plants are slated for sites where reactors already exist. None are slated for California which has a moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

President Obama has proposed expanding nuclear power in the U.S. as a green energy source. In fact, the president touted Japan's push toward nuclear energy at a town hall meeting in 2009. The White House is showing no signs of backing away from nuclear energy now.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey was conducted March 18-20, with 1,012 people questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

– CNN's Jim Acosta, Evan Glass, Ed Hornick, Paul Steinhauser and CNNMoney.com's Steve Hargreaves contributed to this report.


Filed under: CNN poll • Energy • Nuclear power • Polls
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. ABM

    Is this really a suprise? We are all very ignorant of things until the crap hits the fan.

    March 25, 2011 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  2. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    This is ridiculous! People aren't going out of their way to be prepared for being hit by a meteor either.

    This is lousy journalism for the simple reason that it stirs people up, suggesting that the risk of nuclear power is something people ought to worry about, but then saying nothing at all about the actual risk. In fact, people ought to be thousands of times more worried about the cars in their garages than about nuclear power–many thousands of times more people have been hurt by cars than have ever been hurt by a nuclear power plant.

    I see this over and over again: journalists who either can't or don't understand even elementary probability. They seldom differentiate between one-in-a-million events and two-out-of-three events–both will be stated as some variation of "It's possible that..." Yeah, it's possible that a flying squirrel will poop on your head, but sane people don't carry flying-squirrel-poop umbrellas. Suggesting that people who live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant need a "disaster supply kit" is on the same order of lunacy.

    March 25, 2011 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  3. T'sah from Virginia

    The USA infrastructure SUCKS and it always take a disaster to determine that we're also NOT SAFE!!! Instead of the REPUBs destroying the MIDDLE CLASS, they should create jobs by FIXING our infrastructure!!!! President Obama has been preaching this but the RIGHT keep saying we are BROKE.

    Come on NOW – BROKE???????? There are many RICH "business" owners that are "sitting" on TAX CUTS!!!

    March 25, 2011 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  4. The Greedy Old Pigs have declared war on YOU!

    Hmmm, let's see; after 911 the airline industry got the US to provide massive backup insurance for terrorism related losses. The nuke industry gets similar insurance goodies as "incentives" to build more unsafe plants. Politicians didn't oppose these guarantees that put huge amounts of tax dollars at risk. Yet when it comes to insuring the health of the general public, suddenly that's not important enough. The filthy rich class war on average Americans continues.

    March 25, 2011 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  5. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    That is of some concern. We need to develop emergency plans for the existing fission power plants. Any new fission power plant should be require to develop emergency plans as a part of its request for permits and licencing.

    March 25, 2011 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  6. diridi

    never know, better move out of the place...........

    March 25, 2011 08:40 am at 8:40 am |