FULTON, NY – “This is a drill.”
On Wednesday, hundreds of people all over Oswego County participated in the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station Unit 2 emergency preparedness exercise. The event involved players from Oswego County, Onondaga County, the State of New York, and the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station, operated by Constellation Energy Nuclear Group.
The drill was a “federally evaluated exercise where we are demonstrating our ability to implement our emergency plan,” said Jill Lyon CENG spokesperson.
This type of event takes place every two years and representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency come to evaluate how the staged emergency is handled.
Even though the federally evaluated drills take place every two years, at CENG “we train minimum of a quarterly basis,” Lyon added.
The graded exercise began at 8:52 a.m. when an “alert” was declared at Nine Mile Point Unit 2.
The drill scenario was that there was a fire in one of the emergency diesel reactors. From there the simulation accelerated to a “site area emergency” and at 11:53 a.m. a “general emergency.”
The emergency classifications in order of increasing seriousness are: unusual event, alert, site area emergency and general emergency.
A general emergency means more radiation than is allowed during normal operation has been released off site.
The scenario is meticulously planned and all simulated events must occur in an order that would make sense in order for the threat level to increase.
“There’s very clear-cut criteria for actions they have to take,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC when asked how the drill is planned. “Typically they will get to the general emergency stage because they want to put all the responders through their paces.”
Each emergency level was announced at the Joint Information Center located at the Oswego County Airport.
Representatives from Nine Mile Point, FEMA, NRC, the Heath Department, and NYS Disaster Preparedness Commission entered the briefing room, made their announcements and fielded questions from drill participants posing as reporters.
In the event of a real incident, a state of emergency would be declared and the emergency alert system activated by the Kevin Gardner, chair of the Oswego County Legislature. From there, information would be provided to the media and the public via the JIC.
Sirens in Emergency Response Planning Areas would also sound to alert residents of the situation.
People who live within a 10-mile radius of the nuclear power plants are provided information about which ERPA they live in and what needs to be done in the event of an emergency through the Public Emergency Response Information calendar.
The training exercise makes sure all parties involved from the federal to state to local level all work together to get information out and keep the public safe.
Even though this was a drill for a nuclear event, running these simulations also help prepare the county for other emergencies such as the 2003 ice storm.
The JIC was activated briefly in 2007 when there was an alert at one of the units. The alert began in the afternoon, and was under control by early evening.
“Everything initially appears to have gone very smoothly,” said Sheehan. “Just from my perspective of being here at the Joint Information Center, there was a good flow of information.”
The preliminary findings from the NRC and FEMA will be presented on Friday at 11 a.m. at the JIC, 10 Airport Drive, Fulton. This is a public hearing and all Oswego County residents are welcome to attend.
“We feel pretty good we were able to demonstrate what we needed to do in a real emergency,” said Terry Bennett, emergency services program coordinator.
“We operate under the philosophy that our top priority is to ensure the health and safety of our employees and the public,” said Lyon. “So, in the unlikely occurrence of an event we need to be prepared to respond to meet that commitment.”