Watts Bar evacuation plan reviewed after Japanese disaster

Watts Bar evacuation plan reviewed after Japanese disaster

March 30th, 2011 By Kimberly McMillian/Correspondent in News

The Watts Bar Dam site in Spring City, Tenn., taken from across the dam inside the Meigs County line off state Highway 68. Photo by Kimberly McMillian

SPRING CITY, Tenn. - With Rhea, Meigs and McMinn counties all within a 10-mile radius of TVA's Watts Bar nuclear facility, officials with those counties say they have a responsibility to protect residents.

"The county has an obligation" in the event of an emergency at the plant, Rhea County Emergency Management Director Billy Cranfield said at a recent meeting in which county officials reviewed evacuation plans after the earthquake-related nuclear plant accident in Japan.

Rhea will have drills later this year, as an updated precautionary measure, he said.

One revision to the plan, Cranfield said, would change the evacuation route for students to Harriman, Tenn., rather than up the two-lane highway toward Crossville, Tenn.

All three counties provide free calendars with evacuation information for residents who live within 10 miles of the plant.

Meigs County Emergency Management Director Tony Finnell said his county has had a plan in place since the early 1980s.

Finnell praised Tennessee Valley Authority personnel for what he called their open-minded approach to looking into Japan's nuclear problems and evaluating their own facilities.

"TVA's a good steward of safety," he said, noting that Meigs County has a "workable plan that's never needed to be implemented."

Finnell recommended everyone keep a three-day supply of food and necessities on hand in case of a weather or a nuclear plant emergency.

McMinn County Emergency Management Director Betty Hamby said training sessions with all emergency responders there would be held in May.

A mobile home park, at least three churches and three convenience stores and diners are within a seven-mile radius of the nuclear plant in Spring City.

At Smokey Bob's Pizza, Subs & Wings, within two miles of the plant, waitress Ashley Cowgill said her parents had talked openly about an emergency plan and told her "to head ... toward Harriman" in the event of an emergency.

Three miles farther out at Wolf Creek Market, Ronnie Jordan, who has lived nearby for 30 years, said that he would "head toward the [Crossville] mountains and hide on the other side" if anything happened.

For more information about the respective counties' evacuation plans, call Cranfield at 423-775-2505, Finnell at 423-334-3211 or Hamby at 423-744-5256.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net