Japan's Nuclear Disaster Gives Survey Participants Pause

The Civil Society Institute said 53 percent of 814 people surveyed support a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction if efficiency and renewable sources could meet near-term demand.

Sixty-seven percent of 814 adults who were asked said they would oppose the construction of new nuclear reactors within 50 miles of their homes, according to a telephone survey conducted by ORC International for the Civil Society Institute (CSI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank in Newton, Mass. Twenty-four percent said they already live within 50 miles of a reactor site.

The earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan and created the Daiichi nuclear complex disaster were still fresh in participants' minds when surveyors contacted them on March 15-16. Four of the 12 survey questions made reference to the plant disaster.

"The Japanese crisis is a sobering occasion," said Pam Solo, founder and president of CSI, during a telephone press conference on March 22. She added that the survey results favor a conservative approach to energy, one that insists on safety.

CSI noted that it is independent and receives no direct or indirect support of any kind from any nuclear industry interest, or any other energy-related company, organization, or individual.

Solo, who began her public interest career in the 1970s by co-founding and -directing the Rocky Flats campaign and the national Nuclear Weapons Facilities Task Force, founded CSI 19 years ago. She formerly worked for the Armed Services committee professional staff and as campaign director for U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder.

Graham Hueber, senior researcher at ORC International (a major polling firm that has partnered with CSI to conduct 28 surveys to date), ticked off the survey results during the press conference and concluded: “When Americans are asked about their views on specific policy questions that go to the future of nuclear power, there is majority support across the board on every question for moving away from greater reliance on this power source.”

The survey found:

  • 14 percent of participants said their views had not been changed by the Japanese reactor crisis.
  • 73 percent of participants do not “think taxpayers should take on the risk for the construction of new nuclear power reactors in the United States through billions of dollars in new federal loan guarantees.”
  • 74 percent of participants would support “a shift of federal loan-guarantee support for energy away from nuclear reactors” in favor of wind and solar power.
  • 73 percent of participants would favor Congress reviewing a 1957 law indemnifying nuclear power companies from most disaster clean-up costs.
  • 46 percent of participants would “support more nuclear power reactors in the United States” and 44 percent now oppose new reactors. According to CSI, that support level is down by more than 25 percent from the March 2010 Gallup Poll showing 62 percent support for nuclear power.

In May 2010, CSI also funded the report "Beyond Business As Usual," which was produced by Synapse Energy Economics, and looks at a future without coal or nuclear power. Bruce Biewald, president of the research consulting firm and a report author, said the United States over-relies on coal and nuclear technologies and should consider transitioning to efficiency, regional wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal power sources.

In related news, U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski on Monday released white paper (pdf) that outlines the questions that must be answered before lawmakers can develop a "Clean Energy Standard," which President Barack Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address. The national goal would be for 80 percent of U.S. electricity to come from clean energy technologies by 2035.

What Does FEMA Advise in a Nuclear Reactor Emergency?
In the nuclear power policy survey funded by the Civil Society Institute, 52 percent of participants living within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor told surveys that they do not know “what to do in the event of nuclear reactor emergency,” such as “the evacuation route and what other steps to take."

According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration's website, local and state governments, federal agencies, and electric utilities have emergency response plans in the event of a nuclear power plant incident. The plans define two “emergency planning zones.” One zone covers an area within a 10-mile radius of the plant, where it is possible that people could be harmed by direct radiation exposure. The second zone covers a broader area, usually up to a 50-mile radius from the plant, where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops, and livestock.

Exposure to radiation is the biggest threat and could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment, usually characterized by a plume (cloud-like formation) of radioactive gases and particles. People in the vicinity of the plume can be exposed from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground and inhalation and ingestion of radioactive materials.

Radiation has a cumulative effect. The longer a person is exposed to radiation, the greater the effect. A high exposure to radiation can cause serious illness or death.

To minimize those risks, residents should:

Before the disaster

  • Obtain public emergency information materials from the power company that operates the local nuclear power plant or local emergency services office. Residents who live within 10 miles of the power plant should receive these materials yearly.
  • Lower exposure through evacuation or remaining indoors and placing heavy, dense material between yourself and the source of the radiation
  • Know that most radioactivity loses its strength fairly quickly.

During the disaster

  • Keep a battery-powered radio with tuned for specific instructions.
  • Close and lock doors and windows.
  • If you are told to evacuate, keep car windows and vents closed; use re-circulating air.
  • If you are advised to remain indoors, turn off the air conditioner, ventilation fans, furnace, and other air intakes. Go to a basement or other underground area, if possible.
  • Do not use the telephone unless absolutely necessary.
  • If you expect you have been exposed to nuclear radiation, change clothes and shoes and put exposed clothing in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and place it out of the way. Take a thorough shower.
  • Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food not previously covered should be washed before being put in to containers.

After the disaster

  • Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. If you must move an unconscious person, first stabilize the neck and back, then call for help immediately.
  • If the victim is not breathing, carefully position the victim for artificial respiration, clear the airway, and commence cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Maintain body temperature with blankets. Be sure the victim does not become overheated.
  • Never try to feed liquids to an unconscious person.
  • Be aware of exhaustion. Don’t try to do too much at once. Set priorities and pace yourself. Get enough rest.
  • Drink plenty of clean water. Eat well. Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris.
  • Be aware of new safety issues created by the disaster. Watch for washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged electrical wiring, and slippery floors.
  • Inform local authorities about health and safety issues, including chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation, and dead animals.

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