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Rep. Engel Bill Would Better Prepare For Nuclear Disaster

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) has re-introduced the Nuclear Disaster Preparedness Act, to ensure the Federal Government has a coherent nuclear disaster response plan. It would require the President put one Federal Agency in charge of coordinating the Federal response to a nuclear emergency. The bill would also designate an agency to prepare the plans, and educate the public about the evacuation areas from 10, and up to, 50 miles.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) and Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10)

Earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report called the emergency evacuation plan for Indian Point nuclear facility, and other plants nationwide, inadequate to protect people within the 10-mile evacuation zone. Recent studies have shown that in the event of a disaster no federal agency would assume command of emergency response and cleanup. It can be argued that agencies such as The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be in charge of a disaster, but none are currently assigned as primary lead agency. Rep. Engel was the first Member of Congress to call for the closure of Indian Point, and has repeatedly called the evacuation plan an impossibility.

"I have long argued that it was impossible for people to safely evacuate the region should there be a nuclear disaster at Indian Point. I recall a FEMA/NRC drill from about ten years ago which used a scenario where there was no traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge. There is always traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge. We all witnessed the terrible tragedy in Japan at the Fukushima plant. Could you imagine if that occurred in the U.S. and there was no Federal agency in charge?" said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"In the 40 years since Indian Point was built, the population in the Lower Hudson Valley has grown to such an extent that a facility like Indian Point would never be built in the same location today. It is all too clear that in the case of an emergency at the facility, a safe, speedy evacuation of the surrounding area would be nearly impossible," said Congresswoman Lowey, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee. "By helping make sure that the federal government is ready to respond to any kind of an emergency at Indian Point, this legislation would help protect the safety of the millions of people who call the Lower Hudson Valley home."

"Having a clear emergency plan in place to prepare for and respond to a nuclear disaster is crucial to saving thousands, if not millions, of lives," said Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications. "The Nuclear Disaster Preparedness Act is an essential first step in educating the public on what to do in such an emergency and ensures that state and local first responders have the guidance and coordination efforts they need to respond to and mitigate a disaster of this magnitude. As a Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I will fight to pass this important piece of legislation and urge my colleagues to join in support."

The Nuclear Disaster Preparedness Act would require the President, in consultation with the heads of his relevant agencies, to issue guidance on the Federal response to a nuclear disaster. That guidance would:

-Designate a specific agency to coordinate the government's efforts, including the responsibility to make a formal declaration that a nuclear disaster exists.

-Designate the agency or agencies responsible for recommending and conducting an evacuation, and eventually advising that evacuees may return home.

-Develop a plan for evacuation up to 50 miles, as well as a better plan for the current 10 mile evacuation zone.

-Educate the public about these plans.

-Establish cleanup standards, designate an agency to conduct the cleanup, identify where the money to pay for a cleanup would come from, and determine additional roles and responsibilities of any other Federal agency involved in the response effort to a nuclear disaster.

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