While sending the case back to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the appeals panel said the issue was not serious enough to warrant suspension of the operating license granted to Limerick's Unit 1 on Aug. 8, 1985.
Under the state's emergency plan for Graterford, all off-duty prison workers would be mobilized through a pyramid call-up system in which one employee would telephone 10 others, and so on, until everyone had been notified. In a worst-case scenario, those workers would have to help evacuate the prison.
But Angus Love, the inmates' Legal Aid attorney, had argued that the system could fail should the area's commercial telephone system be overloaded during a nuclear emergency at Limerick, which is owned and operated by the Philadelphia Electric Co.
Love asked for a backup system to notify the personnel, but the lower NRC board ruled that federal requirements did not prohibit the reliance on commercial phones during a radiological emergency. That ruling, the appeals panel said, was "unresponsive to the issue raised by the inmates."
Graterford is about eight miles from the Limerick facility. Under NRC rules, there must be "reasonable assurance" that emergency plans will protect everyone within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear plant.
In particular, the appeals board cited the testimony of Richard T. Brown, chairman of the Lower Providence Township supervisors and a communications technician for American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Brown told the lower panel that, based on his experience during other emergencies in the area, switching problems could overload the commercial telephone system in certain areas of his township.