Oyster Creek Generating Station passed its biennial emergency exercise test conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
“Emergency preparedness in the nuclear industry is something that we absolutely have to take seriously and have to put much effort into,” Oyster Creek spokesperson Suzanne D’Ambrosio said.
The test entails a simulated series of emergency events in a concentrated time frame, she said.
“Our focus is on how the company performs on the emergency response front,” Neil Sheehan of the NRC said.
Among the areas assessed are the company's classification of, and response to, abnormal plant conditions; the way in which it communicates information about such conditions to off-site authorities, including the state, counties and towns in the 10-mile-radius Emergency Planning Zone; and staffing and procedure adequacy, he said.
“The scenario for each exercise is unique and designed to fully test emergency response capabilities,” he said.
The NRC did not identify any concerns in the latest emergency test, Sheehan said.
Oyster Creek conducts extensive training and practices on a monthly basis, D’Ambrosio said.
“Fortunately we don’t use our emergency procedures and emergency response policies on a regular basis,” she said. “However we do need to be ready for any type of emergency. We need to know we’re fully capable to handle it in our roles.”
The Forked River based nuclear plant carries out large-scale drills in addition to smaller exercises and tabletop discussions in which staff goes over roles, D’Ambrosio said.
“Training in emergency preparedness is a continuous effort,” she said. “It’s a very important part of what we do. We know we can operate the plant safely because we do it every day. When it comes to responding to an emergency, thank goodness we don’t, but it’s important to know that we can.”
Janet Tauro, co-chair of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety, says that even with well-trained personnel, the problems at Oyster Creek are complex.
“There’s an overstuffed fuel pool. It’s packed beyond its capacity that’s highly radioactive. You have a rusting containment system,” she said. “You also don’t have backup generation for cooling to the overhead fuel pool. Those are inherent problems and shortcomings that you really can’t prepare for.”
Oyster Creek may have passed the NRC’s emergency test, but Tauro doesn’t feel any safer. “Because they never get to the crux of the problems,” she said.
The personnel at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, which has the same design as Oyster Creek, also had training, she said.
“Plans went out the window,” Tauro said. “You can’t plan for the super catastrophe. You can have these emergency drills and everything goes great and they usually do because it’s a drill. It doesn’t work that way with an actual accident or meltdown.”
Oyster Creek was also supposed to have an off-site emergency exercise graded by FEMA. The test was postponed due to Hurricane Irene. The exercise must be held before June 2012.
See the attached PDF’s for a copy of the NRC’s inspection report and the exemption allowing Oyster Creek to postpone the off-site emergency exercise and