On the other side of the world from the evolving nuclear disaster in Japan, environmentalist Jeff Tittel has some of his own fears for the millions that live and vacation within 12 miles of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant near the Jersey Shore.

“You can’t even get home from the Jersey Shore after a day at the beach, let alone evacuate people if there’s some kind of incident,” said Tittel, New Jersey’s director of the Sierra Club.

Together, Pennsylvania and New Jersey house 13 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors and that number is expected to rise.

Showing no signs of slowed growth, the Allentown-based PPL Corporation is investigating a plant in Luzerne County, Pa., and PSEG has applied for an early site permit near their existing Salem and Hope Creek reactors across the Delaware River that is expected to be approved as early as 2013.

Tom Kauffman of the Nuclear Energy Institute predicts a second wave of construction will follow in America “when it is clear that the first wave can be licensed and built on time and within budget.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must approve site plans before construction and re-evaluate safety after 40 years of operation. Many area power plants are in some stage of this routine licensing process.

But according to Tittel, “The NRC has been a cheerleader for the industry and has been a lapdog instead of a watchdog” and added that “the lesson of Japan is that whatever man can build, nature can overcome.”