KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 1,000 state, local and federal emergency managers, regulators and volunteers came to the plains of eastern Iowa recently to test the unthinkable - the accidental release of radioactive material from a commercial nuclear power station near a large concentration of people.
The exercise, held at the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) in Palo, Iowa, from Oct. 16-20, included representatives from Alliant Energy, the utility company that owns the plant; the Iowa Emergency Management Division; Benton and Linn Counties; and the Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) staff from FEMA Region VII.
Jane Young, FEMA's technological program hazards specialist for DAEC, said the exercise had several goals including testing the plant's ability to contain a leak and how state and local emergency managers carried out a subsequent evacuation of the Emergency Protection Zone (EPZ) once the "release" occurred.
"We are there to evaluate the state and local governments to ensure that the health and safety of the general public can be adequately protected if an emergency were to happen," Young said.
FEMA's involvement in radiological emergencies goes back more than 20 years to the accident at Three Mile Island, Penn., in March 1979. Following the near-disaster at the plant, President Jimmy Carter transferred in December 1979 the federal government's responsibility for offsite radiological emergency planning and preparedness activities from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to FEMA. Subsequently, FEMA created its REP program to ensure that residents who live in the vicinity of a commercial nuclear power plant have adequate protection against a possible accident and are informed about emergency radiological preparedness.
The Duane Arnold Energy Center is comprised of one unit that uses boiling water technology to generate 535 million megawatts of electricity. It began commercial operation on Feb. 1, 1975. The Nuclear Management Company, LLC, operates the plant for Alliant Energy. NMC operates five nuclear power plants in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Although the evaluation period lasted four days, the actual graded exercise occurred on Oct. 18 with a simulated controlled plume release of radioactive gas at the plant. This came on the heels of other "accidents" - the dropping of a bundle of spent fuel rods in a containment pool by a mechanical crane and an accidental release of radioactive gas due to a ruptured valve - that put the county and state staffs through all four phases of a radiological emergency - notification of unusual event, alert, site-area emergency and general emergency.
Evaluated areas included the Joint Public Information Center (JPIC); customer service operators who handled rumor control; Emergency Operations Centers for Iowa and Benton and Linn Counties; elder care, dose assessment, receptions centers, state field teams; emergency worker decontamination; and school district disaster response plans.
Evaluators came from FEMA Regions I, VII and X and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Health and Human Service/Public Health Services; the Environmental Protection Agency as well as contractors from Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratories.
That night, evaluators returned to the field to grade the performance of Johnson County's ability to staff and run a reception station at West High School in Iowa City. Tom Hansen, emergency management coordinator for Johnson County, said he had more than 100 volunteers on hand to staff the center. Some set up radiation detection portals in the school's gym and processed volunteer "evacuees" as though they had just arrived from their homes. The evacuees were then directed to the American Red Cross table for registration and transport to one of nine congregate care sites....