As federal regulators continue to look for lessons from Japan's nuclear disaster, critics are pleading for changes in three key nuclear emergency areas.
It matters to Floridians because the state has five reactors, four of which are slated to expand, with plans to build four new ones.
Evacuations: The U.S. government urged Americans within 50 miles of the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant to evacuate, but the government only plans for 10-mile evacuation zones for U.S. nuclear sites. More than 610,000 Floridians live within 10 miles of an existing or proposed nuclear power plant. Twelve times as many — nearly 7.4 million people — live within 50 miles, according to a Sun Sentinel analysis of 2010 census data.
Outages: The top federal regulator on nuclear issues, Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory Jaczko, said recently he's "not convinced" U.S. reactors could deal with power outages that last days, a condition that worsened the situation in Japan, and could lead to radiation leaks.
Nuclear waste: Some lawmakers have renewed calls for the federal government to create a national nuclear waste storage plan, after spent fuel at Fukushima overheated.
Those issues and others will be part of a review by the federal oversight agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, of 104 U.S. reactors in light of the Japan disaster.
NRC officials said earlier this month after an initial review that current disaster plans don't cover combinations of emergencies, such as crises at more than one reactor at a single plant or a natural disaster that affects plants and surrounding roads or utilities. Less than a third of the country's reactors have problems with disaster plans, recent inspections found. None were significant safety risks and all have been corrected, the NRC reported.
At Florida plants, problems were found in equipment to protect plants during major floods and in procedures that would be used during blackouts.
The agency is expected to issue more findings in July and complete a deeper review in January.
Here's a look at what happened at the Fukushima plant after the March 11 tsunami and how Florida's five reactors stack up.
Initially, Japan government officials evacuated residents within two miles of the Fukushima plant. Then they expanded the evacuation zone to 12 miles and, more recently, 19 miles.
In the event of a problem at a U.S nuclear power plant, the NRC requires state and local officials to plan for evacuations only within a 10-mile radius. But the zone could be expanded.
The NRC's order for Americans in Japan to evacuate 50 miles was based on quick calculations and "some really gross assumptions" about worst-case radiation levels, said Steve Kraft, a senior director of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear power industry. The estimates were made because regulators didn't have access to detailed information, he said.
Still, there's no stopping Floridians who live outside an official evacuation zone from fleeing. That could clog roadways and prevent people closest to plants from leaving. Should the government prepare for broader evacuations just in case?
Yes, said environmental activists and others during a protest in Homestead last month opposing proposed expansions of Florida's nuclear plants.
"Nobody has planned for us to leave. Nobody outside the 10-miles circle is accounted for," said Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami, which is less than 20 miles away from Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear plant.
Backup power sources
A big danger with nuclear plants during disasters is the risk that they would not be able to cool the reactor core. When systems operate normally, that's done with electrical power generated by the plant. When the plant is shut down, backup generators kick in. If the backup generators are down or damaged, as some were in Japan, the cooling systems still need to run until power is restored.