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N.R.C. Acts on Nuclear Plant Evacuations

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In the face of determined opposition from state and local officials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided to permit utility companies to submit their own emergency plans for two highly controversial nuclear power plants in New York and New Hampshire.

The nrc's action could allow the utilities to bypass state and local governments that have tried to keep the two plants from operating. It could also override the objections of teachers who say they will not participate in any evacuation from the area around New Hampshire's Seabrook plant. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1987.)

The new policy, unanimously approved by the commission in late October, would allow nrc licensing boards to approve the plants based on utility-drafted evacuation plans. Under the old regulations, the nrc could only consider plans submitted by state authorities.

Officials in New York and Massachusetts--which borders New Hampshire near the Seabrook plant--have refused to submit evacuation plans. The state officials contend that dense populations and congested roads near the two facilities make safe evacuations impossible.

In New Hampshire, local officials are challenging the state's Seabrook evacuation plan in court, arguing that it will not work without the cooperation of local teachers.

Even under the new rules, the utility companies that own the two plants still must prove that a safe evacuation is possible, said Robert Newland, an nrc spokesman.

"The bottom line determination is the same as it has always been, which is reasonable protection of the public health and safety," he said.

Agency critics, however, charge that the new rules will allow the nrc to license the plants despite the safety problems. The commission, they charge, is biased in favor of the utilities, which will suffer heavy financial losses if the plants are not opened.--wm

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