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Japan Disaster Prompts Concerns For Md. Nuclear Safety

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Hellgren Mike 370x278 (2) Mike Hellgren
WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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REISTERSTOWN, Md. (WJZ)—The situation in Japan continues to worsen as crews attempt to reverse what’s happening at a damaged nuclear power plant. The crisis is now having a ripple effect on the use of atomic energy worldwide.

Mike Hellgren reports from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency with more on how Maryland inspects its nuclear facilities.

The three nuclear plants closest to Baltimore are vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.  It’s Richard Muth’s job as director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to make sure plans are in place in case of disaster.

“There may be some areas where they have to evacuate, but generally, we’re going to go with shelter in place first,” Muth said.  “The plans are actually reviewed annually.”

Those living in the shadow of the only reactors in Maryland—at Calvert Cliffs in Lusby—feel uneasy watching events unfold in Japan.

“You always think it can never happen to you, but then there’s always that chance.  Looking at Japan, you really wonder,” said Lusby resident Terri Tresp.

“Every two years there’s an exercise with the power plants and it’s what we call a table top or a functional exercise,” Muth said. “We’ll have people here but we won’t actually have people moving in the streets or equipment. Every six years we do a full-scale exercise.”

He says the plants are built to withstand the most powerful natural disasters that are projected to hit Maryland.

“Maryland is a pretty safe area as far as an earthquake,” Muth said. “Although we do have fault lines, general belief is that we will have between a 4.0 and a 4.5 [earthquake]. The plants are built to withstand the top categories for tornadoes and even more of a concern to me because of where it is is hurricane danger.”

The energy secretary warned Congress Wednesday the Japanese crisis could be more perilous than Three Mile Island in 1979.  It was the most serious nuclear accident in U.S. history.  The reactor is within 50 miles of Baltimore and Harford counties.

“There are a number of reactors in the United States with similar designs. We’re going to look at what went wrong in the double barrel whammy of this huge, huge earthquake and tsunami,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The Peach Bottom nuclear plant, about five miles north of the Maryland state line, uses the same boiling water reactors as the troubled plant in Japan.  The uncertainty there is fueling heated concerns at home about the safety of nuclear energy and how prepared we are for a crisis.

“It certainly is very troubling,” Muth said.

He says the state has full-time access to a representative from Calvert Cliffs and remains in close contact with Exelon–the operator of both Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island.

“As the Japan event was unfolding, I was in touch with him immediately to touch base with our plans to make sure nothing had changed down there; it was very reassuring that there’s people on site for us,” Muth said.

Stay with WJZ for complete coverage of this disaster in Japan. For constant updates and additional video, clear here.

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