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Valley sits in danger zone between 2 nuclear plants



Published: Sun, November 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Facilities in Mahoning and Trumbull counties would be used for shelter if an evacuation of the plants were necessary, one official said.

By PAUL WHEATLEY

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Local and state Emergency Management Agency officials say danger zones can extend as far as 50 miles after an attack or other catastrophe at a nuclear power plant.

The Mahoning Valley is situated within the danger zone of two nuclear reactors: the Perry Nuclear Power Plant on the shores of Lake Erie and the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport, Pa.

The Perry Plant, in Perry Township, was built in 1987 and generates about 1,320 megawatts per hour -- enough to power about 1.4 million homes. Beaver Valley has two reactors, built in 1976 and '87, which generate about 810 megawatts each per hour.

Both plants are owned by First Energy Corp.

In case of an emergency, most hazards occur within a 10-mile radius of a plant. The effects of a radiation release, however, could also be felt up to 50 miles away, said Dick Kimmins, a spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

"Radioactivity does not travel very far, based, of course, on weather conditions," said Kimmins, who mentioned wind and water as variables that carry radioactivity.

Youngstown sits within 50 miles of both plants. Portions of Columbiana County are within 10 miles of the Beaver Valley facility.

How bad would a radiation release be?

What happened: On April 26, 1986, an accident at the Chernobyl power plant in the former Soviet Union released clouds of radioactive material into the atmosphere for more than 10 days. About 135,000 people in a 20-mile radius surrounding Chernobyl had to be evacuated after the accident.

Some reports contend Chernobyl residents were exposed to radioactivity 100 times greater than that of the Hiroshima bomb.

In the United States, radioactive gas was released from Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant, about 10 miles from Harrisburg, Pa., on March 28, 1979, after a partial meltdown of the nuclear plant's radioactive core.

A report released in the Washington Post showed people living up to 10 miles downwind of the facility, from 1975 to 1985, had higher rates of lung cancer and leukemia than those living upwind.

Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency, said facilities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties would be used to shelter people evacuated from Perry Township.

"The natural relocation is south since there's nowhere to go north," he said.

Local emergency officials would also be responsible for issuing bulletins through the emergency alert system, testing exposed food sources in the agricultural community and supplying food and medical support to those injured.

Duzzny said farmers would also be asked to move livestock under cover.

What's being done: First Energy employees are working under tightened security in an effort to thwart any trouble since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Before Sept. 11, you could drive up to the plant office buildings," said Todd Schneider, a spokesman for First Energy.

Now, he said, security guards are posted at property lines to check identification.

Gov. Mark Schweiker said Pennsylvania Army National Guard soldiers would remain at the state's five nuclear facilities until the national alert is lifted, at which time the deployment will be re-evaluated.

This occurred after the U.S. Justice Department announced its high state of alert would remain in place beyond Nov. 7. Schweiker had earlier ordered soldiers to patrol the state's five nuclear power plants at least until Wednesday.

The National Guard was called in to help state police protect nuclear plants, citing occurrences at two nuclear plants that caused airport closures and military jets to be scrambled in October. Both matters turned out to be false alarms.

The most recent was Oct. 31 at the Beaver Valley power station. Planes were grounded at Pittsburgh International Airport and military jets were scrambled after a single-engine airplane violated the federal government's 10-mile "no-fly" zone near the plant.

In Pennsylvania, state police have been on duty round-the-clock at nuclear plants since shortly after Sept. 11.

A spokesman for President Bush said decisions on the use of guardsmen are up to the states.

Schneider wouldn't talk about other changes in security protocol, but he said the plants still operate at 100 percent.

Plant security methods are drawn up before plants are allowed to open. Plants must also pass reviews by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission every two years to remain licensed.

A spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft said the governor does not plan to station National Guard personnel at the Perry plant at this time.

XThe Associated Press contributed to this report.

wheatley@vindy.com




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