Nuclear Plants – The Overlooked Risk of Nuclear Plant Disasters for Credit Unions

On March 11, 2011, an unimaginable earthquake of magnitude 9.0 followed by a tsunami struck Japan. As the event unfolded, a global audience (including myself) watched in horror as the helpless communities were engulfed by the water surge. And if the earthquake and tsunami were not enough, the region was quickly alerted to a threat of another kind. The Japanese nuclear power plant (NPP) known as Fukushima Daiichi had sustained extensive damage and in the days that followed, several of the reactors overheated and released radioactivity to the air. This event, along with others in the past like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island continue to raise questions about the safety of communities in close proximity to NPPs. As a Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity planner, I became curious about what the impact would be on credit unions in the United States should a similar event occur. Quite honestly, I was shocked when my research revealed a greater risk than I had expected.

I’ll begin with a few facts found on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) website.  As of today there are 104 reactors at 64 commercial nuclear facilities and an additional 36 research/educational reactors. This number should concern you! Some plants are located near major cities such as Boston, Washington D.C., and New York City so it’s an easy conclusion that the credit union industry is exposed to the threat of a nuclear plant disaster. But how exposed is the question and what can credit unions do to prepare for this event?

How Exposed?

In risk management, you learn to measure your threat by evaluating the likelihood of an event and the potential impact. It goes without saying that the impact of a nuclear plant failure could be catastrophic. Determining the likelihood of a nuclear event is much more challenging. The risks to our nation’s nuclear infrastructure are many but those that my research turned up as most evident are:

  • Terrorism (physical and cyber)
  • Aging infrastructure (age of plant) – Many of these plants are > 30 years old!
  • Human complacency
  • Geographic location prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes or wildfires

So while the nuclear experts are focused on plant safety, your job is to determine the risk level for your own credit union.  To help make this a bit easier, I did some research to see exactly how many credit unions had “locations” within the zones the NRC considers vulnerable. By matching the NRC maps with data on the NCUA “credit union locator” tool, the numbers shown below clearly support more than a cursory glance.  Remember – these are “member service” locations as defined on the NCUA site – not kiosks or standalone ATMs. If you’re unsure of the risk to your credit union, I encourage you to visit the site to identify NPPs in your area.


5 miles

10 miles

15 miles

25 miles

60 miles

# CU Locations Near Nuclear Power Plants






# CU Locations Near Research/Educational






Total # CU Locations Near Nuclear Threats







Mitigating the Risk (Know Your Zone)

The NRC defines two Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) areas around the NPP.

The “plume exposure pathway” EPZ defines the area where protective action plans is in place to avoid or reduce potential exposure to radiation materials. This zone generally has a radius of 10 miles from the reactor site. According to my research, that’s 646 credit union locations in a high risk location. Credit unions in this zone must ensure their DR/BCP strategies include the steps necessary to survive a nuclear accident of this nature. Specifically:

  • Know your threatCredit union leaders must reach out to the plant operators and establish relationships that include mutual understanding of the inherent risks. Town hall meetings, tours of the facility, participations in drills and exercises are all great ways to forge partnerships that may save lives in the future.
  • EvacuationBased on early warning tools, your credit union may be asked to evacuate. But before you do, it is imperative that you have accurate information regarding the direction (downwind) of the plume. Practice evacuation drills with your staff to ensure orderly shutdowns and identify gaps (carpoolers, walkers, etc.) where transportation would be needed. Evacuation is more complex with a nuclear threat as the emergency responders may have to “clear” your passage to a non-impacted zone (i.e. you don’t pose a risk.)
  • Shelter in Place – If the threat is imminent and there is no time for evacuation, you will be asked to “shelter-in-place”. Depending on the exposure threat length, it may be necessary to shelter in place for days until you are given the “all clear”. Supplies should be adequate for an extended stay. Additionally, depending on the design of your facility, steps should be taken to seal off your building – mask tape along with plastic sheeting  or other window type sealer that prevent fumes from seeping into your building will effectively reduce your exposure up to 95%. Remember your doors and chimneys as well.
  • Use of potassium iodide where appropriate.

The “ingestion exposure pathway” EPZ extends the emergency planning to include an area up to a 50 mile radius from the reactor site.  Again, looking at the numbers charted above – that’s 5000 – 25000 credit union locations at risk. Special care is taken in this area to protect against contaminated food and water.  Steps for your credit union in this area include:

  • Having enough bottled water (or bottled water service) for your credit union staff.
  • Throwing out exposed/banned foods.

Why you should plan?

We live in a world where threats are constantly evolving. Our nation’s nuclear power plants and research facilities face increased risks of failure/disaster for many reasons. Your job as a credit union leader is to identify your risk and mitigate based on the information above. Are you in the EPZ? What steps have you taken to protect your credit union?

Robin Remines

Robin Remines

Robin Remines brings an exciting combination of strategic vision and tactical finis to the OGO Executive team. Prior to joining Ongoing Operations, Ms. Remines served as Vice President, Information Technology ... Web: Details