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Southern Exposure 2015: The Value of Emergency Preparedness Exercises

Sue Perkins-Grew
The following is a guest post by Sue Perkins-Grew, Senior Director, Emergency Preparedness and Risk Assessment at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Preparedness” is at the core of the nuclear energy industry culture, one reason why reactor operators have a half century of safe operations in the United States.

Part of the job of every licensed plant operator involves training to ensure they are prepared to address a spectrum of unlikely events that do not occur during normal operations. In fact, plant operators essentially work their entire careers without experiencing such events. Yet they still practice on simulators regularly, where they are tested with redundant failures of plant systems to gain proficiency in their response to various accident scenarios. This way, they are skilled in taking actions to control and correct any abnormal event. A qualified, multi-disciplined emergency response organization completes annual training and performance evaluations by participating in drills.

Such emergency preparedness training complements the layers of safety protection in nuclear plant operations. Commercial reactors located in 30 states are designed and built to withstand a wide array of extreme natural threats like hurricanes and flooding, security events and technical failures that may occur during electricity production.

And on a larger scale, every nuclear energy facility has plans in place engaging federal, state and local entities – as well as private and non-profit organizations that provide emergency services – to ensure all are prepared to respond to any event. In fact, nuclear energy facilities are required by federal law to have a federally approved emergency plan in place, and they must conduct integrated evaluated exercises alongside other principal responders. Typically, these same plans are activated by locales near nuclear plants for others uses, such as powerful storms or chemical spills.

H.B. Robinson, focal point of Southern Exposure.
This week, these principles of emergency preparedness will be demonstrated on a scale rarely experienced. A full-scale, integrated exercise called Southern Exposure 2015 at Duke Energy’s Robinson nuclear plant in South Carolina will involve the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy and scores of other federal, state and local agencies. Others include the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, Interior, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“While we all hope we never have to respond to a real emergency of this type, it is important that we understand our individual roles and how they fit into the overall coordinated response,” said Victor McCree, who leads the NRC’s regional office in Atlanta.

The exercise begins on July 21 and continues on July 22, with additional discussion and review following the exercise. It will be a comprehensive demonstration of nuclear plant operators and responders from various organizations applying their capability and skills according to their plans and procedures. The scenario will include unrealistic failures of safety systems and other artificial constraints needed to drive the exercise and enable all organizations to demonstrate their capabilities.

In that sense, Southern Exposure can only strengthen the ability of industry, federal, state and local responders to effectively manage extreme events in a coordinated manner. And it promises to identify areas that need to be strengthened, while deepening understanding of the “whole community” approach to emergency response.

Comments

jimwg said…
What's really dismaying to me is how much of the public believe that nuclear plants are unique in the "necessity" for elaborate emergency response measures, as though reactors are swollen eggshells that just can't wait to blow. Ironic that I don't see the 4th Estate being as curious and concerned of what chemical and gas facilities perch fault lines.

James Greenidge
Queen NY

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