We (and Congress) find it incredible that BP and the copycat oil industry have vapid, empty crisis plans, and therefore they weren’t at all prepared for the Gulf spill at one mile down. Obviously, neither was our government, at any level, prepared. Well, just how prepared do you think government at all levels, or private industry, is to come to grips with a nuclear disaster, whether it is an accident or caused? I guess, not very ready, at all.

Are there practical plans for protecting people and things from needless contamination? Are there realistic plans to deal with social and business disruption, hungry and injured people and animals, financial stability, communications coordination, government continuity, command and control, and timely, passionate reparations? Are our institutions investing in nuclear safety to protect our society at a level commensurate with our production of nuclear weapons and use of current or future nuclear energy resources? No way.

Two small, but perhaps illustrative examples from my experience as an Army staff officer in the late 60s, when the country was perhaps more top-of-mind than now on nuclear threats (from nuclear energy plant accidents, nuclear material movements, and nuclear attack):

1) As an operations officer at the HQ for the Army War College, where students — mostly colonels designated as general officer candidates — held contingency positions as alternates for Department of Defense officials, I was assigned to overview nuclear survival contingencies for their families and other staff, if the alternates had to go underground to run the military. I found the shelters for these family members and others who could not dive into the hardened nuclear command shelters, were not well maintained, did not have the requisite up-to-date food, water, medical supplies, geiger counters, etc., needed to provide a modicum of survivability. How anxious would all those colonels be to abandon their families to an unprepared fate? When I made a fuss about it with my higher ups, they ordered the supplies and sent me to training to manage that survival plan.
2) The Army then sent me to special training at a classified location in Arizona to become a Public Affairs Officer for a military nuclear emergency team, one that would be prepared to respond to nuclear accidents or threats in the NE of the U.S. It was a good course, maybe a week or so of learning procedures, practices and simulations of responding to such an emergency. Our job would be to be the military liaison for dealing with public and press relations in such a disaster. But let me be honest, could a first lieutenant (however good I was) with a week’s special liaison training hardly be expected to be qualified and prepared to deal with the enormity of a BP-level public affairs disaster across a sixth of the country?

While I’ve read that some communities have practical and tested contingency plans for nuclear recovery, and I’m sure the federal government and states, and nuclear power companies do as well, as does the military, do you think they’d be any more effective than our governments and BP has been in managing the repercussions in the Gulf to date? It is a scary prospect.

Maybe it’s time to take all our contingency planning for major risks and disasters, at all levels, a lot more seriously than we have up to now, and stop copying old documents that might have been actionable at some time in the past. If the BP crisis motivates us to do that, we’ll gain something from this mess.

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