In Massachusetts, Uneasy Talk of Emergency Plans
Kingston, Mass.--To leave the Kingston Elementary School, one has a choice of two routes: a narrow, winding road that stops several hundred yards away from the entrance ramp to a major highway or another narrow road that runs through a residential neighborhood.
Both roads, residents say, are frequently crowded, especially at the end of a normal school day or after an athletic event.
These routes, most teachers at the school would argue, were designed for school-bus traffic, and not as roads for evacuating children and school employees after a nuclear emergency. But that is what is called for in a proposed evacuation plan for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, located less than 10 miles from the school in Plymouth.
"We did not sign a contract to die for the job," said Rita Donahoe, president of the local teachers' union, in explaining her group's opposition to the proposed evacuation plan and the duties that teachers are to assume if an emergency occurs.
The plan was stirring tensions here and in neighboring communities last week, as the operators of the nuclear plant continued their efforts to win local support for it.
According to the proposed plan, most teachers would be expectedduring an emergency to travel with their students to towns outside the 10-mile evacuation zone and to stay with the children until their parents were able to retrieve them. In that circumstance, teachers of this 825-pupil, K-6 school could be separated from their own families.
"I feel that in a situation that is life-threatening, you cannot assume anything," said Ms. Donahoe, who noted that the union had notified planning officials in March that teachers should not be counted on for aid in a nuclear emergency.
Start-Up at Issue
Since Pilgrim began operation in 1972, residents of the towns in eastern Massachusetts that surround the plant have been divided about the benefits and potential risks associated with nuclear power.
Opponents of the plant have been more vocal since 1986, when Pilgrim was shut down for repairs and management changes. With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission scheduled to discuss a limited start-up of the plant at a meeting later this month, activists have been trying to keep the facility permanently shut.
One part of their campaign has been backing Question 4, a controversial referendum on the Massachusetts ballot next month that would close Pilgrim permanently by ban8ning the production of nuclear waste.
Activists have also drawn attention to potential flaws in Pilgrim's evacuation plan, which has been required by the federal commission since 1981.
Of the 75 commercial plants nationwide that are now in operation or under construction, 51 have approved evacuation plans. Twenty-four plants--including Pilgrim--have interim approval to operate, even though they have incomplete plans.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, four plants have closed over the past 18 months. Two other plants have been converted to fossil-fuel producers over the past three years.
In 1987, fema withdrew its interim approval of the Pilgrim plan. It justified its decision by citing six major flaws in the plan, including the evacuation procedures proposed for the more than 18,000 students who attend the area's 33 public and private schools.
Since then, Pilgrim's owner, Boston Edison, has spent about $15 million to work with local and state officials and school boards to draft a new plan.
In contrast, in the localities neighboring the better-known Seabrook, N.H., and Shoreham, Long Island, plants, public officials refused to cooperate with the utilities to draw up evacuation plans. Teachers wereel10lamong the more vocal opponents of the plants and, in the case of Seabrook, won a ruling from a state superior court that clarified their right not to participate in an evacuation.
'False Sense of Security'
Here in the environs of Pilgrim, despite an air of cooperation, local opposition to the plant in some quarters remains strong, particularly among teachers.
In Duxbury, one of the five towns in addition to Kingston that are in the evacuation zone, nearly all of the teachers polled in June either abstained or said they would not accompany students to a decontamination center 40 miles away from the school or would not remain sheltered with the students in their school in the case of a nuclear emergency.
In Plymouth, the school board last week voted to not allow school employees to attend an information session provided by Boston Edison and rejected a proposal to designate their buildings as emergency shelters.
Meanwhile, in Kingston, Ms. Donahoe recommended that her members boycott a similar information session that was held last week on school grounds.
Standing outside the school and in a hallway outside the cafeteria/auditorium where the session was held, teachers said they were delib4erately missing the meeting to protest the evacuation plan.
"If we show up we're doing an injustice to the community because we'd be giving them a false sense of security," said Bill MacLaren. "By staying away, we're showing our concern."
"Boston Edison is treating this as a hurricane or a snowstorm that comes and goes," he added.
But John Bastoni, the school's principal, said he did not see himself "abandoning ship" during a nuclear emergency. "I don't have a stance to take," he said. "I can't ignore the fact that there are more than 900 people in the building."
The three-hour session attracted about a dozen teachers, most of whom were in their first year and not members of the union; others taught in a regional special-needs pre-kindergarten program that is housed in the school.
The teachers were taught basic radiation concepts, and were told that the likelihood of any nuclear emergency requiring an evacuation was very small.
Addressing those teachers who believed that an evacuation under any set of circumstances was impossible, James Tacket, a consultant hired by the utility to provide the training, said, "Some people would say that unless this is perfect, it shouldn't be done. I would suggest to you that if that was the case, then nothing in this world would ever get done."
Mr. Tacket went on to describe a proposed evacuation procedure for the school, carefully outlining the responsibilities of teachers, the principal, and the superintendent.
According to the model, teachers would record the names of all students who entered the evacuation buses onto a special form, and would then 'sign out' the children when their parents came to pick them up at another site or at the decontamination center.
Mr. Tacket, who said he believed there would be "relatively little traffic confusion" at the beginning of a general evacuation, acknowledged that the roads could be packed if many people tried to leave the area at once.
"You know you may have to wait 14 hours on Route 128 to get to the monitoring center," he said. "Big deal. Take a book, take a coloring book and crayons for the children, take a tape."
"The object is to get outside of the 10 miles," he continued. "Unless you live withing the two-mile radius [surrounding the plant], it won't be that difficult."
"It's possible," he said. "It's been proven time and time again that it's possible."
'Acting Like Ostriches'
At the end of the information session, most teachers, who declined to provide their names, said they found the class to be useful.
"It would be stupid not to have something planned," said one teacher. "It would be acting like ostriches."
"We could easily carry out the steps in the plan," she said, "if only people keep their heads."